#soundcheck: neneh cherry’s triumphant return with the bold jazz-punk “the cherry thing”

June 18, 2012

On her first solo album in 16 years, the inimitable Neneh Cherry returns with an album of left-field covers backed by jazz trio The Thing. Taking on songs from MF Doom to The Stooges, the quartet bursts with raw energy. Despite a seemingly familiar formula (pop star + jazz band + covers = success!) The Cherry Thing is a record that sounds like nothing else. The musical chemistry between Cherry and The Thing is overflowing. This collaboration runs deep; The Thing take their name from a song by Neneh Cherry’s step-father, jazz cornetist Don Cherry. Even at her chart-toppingest, Neneh Cherry always kept a punk rawness at her core (she did cut her teeth in London punk band The Cherries, after all). The Thing, meanwhile have always been more power-trio than three-piece-combo. With Mats Gustafsson’s sax wailing like an overdriven guitar, the band calls to mind the jazz punk of Acoustic Ladyland or the mournful drive of Boston alternative icons Morphine. And with Cherry’s voice front and center, simultaneously smooth and rough, the band builds from sultry soul to cacophonous wail and back again.

On the reimagining of MF Doom’s ‘Accordion,’ the band shines with a unique energy, somehow outweirding MF Doom himself. After building to an explosion; a simultaneous solo by all four, the song collapses. And in a moment showcasing how much fun all assembled seem to be having, Cherry lets out a little chuckle. It’s a sincere moment, and the kind of touch that keeps this album from turning into the self-serious mess that it could just as easily have been. Thankfully, even at its most “serious” moments (as on the Don Cherry cover ‘Golden Heart’) there’s always a playfulness and joy at its heart (its golden heart, if you will. no? ok fine.)
In the final act of defiance, the often loud and chaotic The Cherry Thing, ends with its quietest moment. The closest they ever come to a jazz standard closes out the album. A solo vocal hanging in the air on a cover of Ornette Coleman’s ‘What Reason.’ After this long a break between solo albums, it’s a breath of fresh air to hear Neneh Cherry trying something so new and bold. I can only hope we don’t have to wait 16 years for another.
The Cherry Thing will be available June 19th. In the meantime you can stream the full album here.
– Contributor: Nathan Leigh