Ever since Neneh Cherry struck gold on her debut 1989 solo record, Raw Like Sushi, with politically minded hit “Buffalo Stance,” she has never tried, or cared, about fitting the mold pop stardom demanded of her. Cherry made music when she felt compelled to, examining and expanding on her growing set of influences like trip-hop, spoken word, and avant-garde jazz. After intervening years saw two more challenging solo records and a handful of little-heard collaborations, Cherry re-emerged in 2012 with The Cherry Thing, an electrifying neo-soul album with Swedish jazz trio The Thing that featured intriguingly re-worked covers of tracks by Suicide, MF Doom, and The Stooges.
Now, 17 years after her last official solo record, Cherry has united with U.K. electronic duo RocketNumberNine and producer Kieran Hebden (a.k.a. Four Tet) for Blank Project, a blistering futuristic soul record that chatters and blares with sparse industrial beats, buzz-saw synths, and Cherry’s restless and inventive vocals. The title track provides a fitting primer for the rest of the album, kicking down doors with disintegrating drum-machine hits that reverberate in negative space, punctuated by quick tambourine attacks and eerie electronic textures, while Cherry pushes and pulls away from a lover who has left her confused, angry, lonely, and righteous. It’s a searing lead single that ignites a precisely calibrated detonation over the eight remaining tracks, from the slow-motion, noxious love of Mezzanine B-side “Spit Three Times,” to dystopian cowbell grooves of “Weightless” to the menacing and glorious fuck-off of Robyn team-up “Out Of The Black.” Blank Project is a record churning with a mysterious dark energy that sounds like it was recorded in an abandoned subway tunnel, building off Cherry’s extremely fruitful past work while careening chaotically toward the future. Neneh Cherry has been making music for 25 years now, but Blank Project proves that she’s absolutely free of any signs of creative stagnation.