Neneh Cherry has never been an artist to comply with conformity. This is a woman who dipped her toes in punk acts The Slits and Rip Rig + Panic before bouncing around on the Top Of The Pops studio stage in 1988, seven months pregnant, to sing her breakthrough solo hit Buffalo Stance. Her pregnant belly caused a storm of controversy with the conservatives, but Cherry has mostly made brave, unapologetic choices during her career.
Instead of capitalising on the global success of the sassy fusion of pop and hip hop she unleashed on her groundbreaking debut album Raw Like Sushi, Cherry veered all over the place, experimenting with rock, jazz, hard funk and trip hop on her two subsequent solo records Homebrew and Man. As a result, she probably confused marketing executives at her record label who had little idea how to sustain her audience.
The Swedish-born singer has been sporadically active since the mid 1990s, and instead of continuing her solo career, she has thrived as a collaborator, not just with her collective CirKus, but with several established acts like Gorillaz, Craig Armstrong, Groove Armada and, on the global hit Seven Seconds, with Youssou N’Dour. Her latest release is yet another collaboration, this time with progressive Scanadanavian free jazz trio The Thing, who, like Cherry, reject conformity, and instead have a notoriously punk approach to recording and performing.
In an act of synchronicity, The Thing named themselves after a song from one of their idols who just happens to be Neneh’s stepfather, the jazz great Don Cherry. After seeing The Thing perform live, Cherry decided she’d like to lend her talents to the band, and from the results of The Cherry Thing, a collection of mainly cover versions, this collaborative effort seemed almost inevitable.
Recorded over just four days in a west London studio, The Cherry Thing features only eight tracks, but don’t be fooled by the apparent lack of content. In the spirit of free form jazz, each of the songs are loose, uneconomical, often long winded affairs, with a couple of recordings clocking in at over eight minutes. The lyrics of the opening track Cashback, penned by Cherry herself, have all of her trademark brashness emblazened over them, but the off kilter drum patterns and screeching saxophones that dominate the track half way through are, to great effect, disorienting and wildly hypnotic.
Likewise, the selection of covers are as disparate as the sounds of the record. One minute they’re laying down an ominous, brutish version of Martina Topley Bird’s Too Tough To Die, the next they extract the heavy staccato of hip hop artist MF Doom’s Accordian, and Suicide’s Dream Baby Dream is given a boozy, smoky treatment. The proverbial cherry on top, however, is Dirt, a raucous reworking cover of the 1970 Stooges song. Like the much of the album, it’s chaotic, savage and urgent. Listening to The Cherry Thing is often a jarring and confusing experience, but just like the uncompromising individual pursuits of Neneh Cherry and The Thing, that’s the whole point.