Album Reviews

Neneh Cherry – The Versions

(Smalltown Supersound) UK release date: 10 June 2022

A set of reinterpretations by a varied selection of artists celebrate the pioneering vision of the bona fide pop legend

Neneh Cherry - The Versions Neneh Cherry is a bona fide pop legend. Unlike most legends who have spent a lifetime in the pop game though, she has never had the greatest hits treatment despite having a bag full of them. Neneh Cherry isn’t like most other artists though. That individuality has defined her whole career so instead of releasing a run-of-the-mill hits collection she’s collected a bunch of female and non-binary artists including family, long term friends and people who have been inspired by her music to provide their own interpretations and reinventions of her most famous songs.

As a celebration of her artistry and pioneering singular vision, the collection of songs here highlights the extent to which she is a special artist. Some of the versions are respectful and faithful, for example Sia’s twinkling version of the still magical Manchild. Others take on a different approach, like on the radically different version of her biggest banger of all Buffalo Stance featuring a parade of pop visionaries in Robyn, and Mapei with production by Dev Hynes, AKA Blood Orange. You’d think on paper this would be amazing but the end result is not quite so thrilling. The exuberant joy of the original seems to be missing altogether and the cover seems tentative and neutered.

Maybe that’s the point. In 1988 anything seemed possible. 24 years on, the world is an entirely different, fractured place and its protagonist has a lifetime of memories both good and bad to look back on. It’s emblematic of a general feeling of the artists holding something back when taking on these songs, perhaps being overly respectful and reverent. No one really shakes things up.

Still, there are numerous moments of real beauty here. Jamila Woods’ playful sweet take on Kootchi is the most carefree and joyous moment on the album while the Honey Dijon remix of Buddy X, one of Neneh’s most underrated hits, provides a very welcome shot of adrenaline and BPM boost to close out the album. Most striking and affecting of all the covers here though is Anohni’s stunning version of Woman. It’s in a track like this that the spirit of this project truly shines through.

It’s hard to be too critical of such a special collection of musicians coming together to pay homage to one of the greats. The likes of Greentea Peng, Kelsey Lu, Seinabo Sey, Sudan Archives and Neneh’s daughter TYSON also appear on the album. They are all artists with similar ideals and visions to Neneh herself, determined to do things in their own way. Always doing the unexpected, The Versions is a welcome diversion from an artist like no other.

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