Neneh Cherry’s voice is as spectacular as you would expect on The Cherry Thing. But unfortunately, that doesn’t make free jazz any more or less palatable.
Smalltown Supersound, 2012
3.5 / 10.0
I’m going to be honest with you, dear reader. I struggled to listen to the debut album from Neneh Cherry & the Thing (i.e. a collaboration between Swedish-British singer Neneh Cherry and Swedish-Norwegian jazz band The Thing). I was surprised that I made it all the way through, even once. Yes, even despite all those rave reviews we’ve all seen for it, The Cherry Thing did not sit well with me, for a number of rather superficial reasons. Firstly, it’s a long album. Yes, it’s only eight tracks. But they’re all marathon sized tracks, and I’m a busy man with things to do. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, I’m not hugely familiar with this genre of music – free jazz or experimental jazz or whatever I’m supposed to call it. I’m not really the target audience of The Cherry Thing. But despite all these reasons, I’m gonna do my valiant best to give this album a fair, considered review.
So let’s start by asking, what works best on The Cherry Thing? Certainly the album’s biggest drawcard is Neneh Cherry’s spectacular voice. It oozes with attitude and maturity, and undoubtedly deserves to be compared with the best female vocalists of our generation. It also covers a great range moving from quiet and fragile to powerful and booming. Neneh Cherry has obviously worked quite hard to develop her vocal skills over her long career. But strangely enough, it feels underused on The Cherry Thing, stepping aside to let the performances of The Thing’s saxaphone, double bass and drums shine through. The Thing’s performances, I might add, are ear-achingly shambolic a lot of the time. Nearly each track starts out with a nice, sensible melody but then descends into a mess of improvisation. Granted, this is what The Thing does best. And I’m sure there’s a big audience out there for music like this, but I am not it. Apart from Neneh Cherry’s excellent vocals, I honestly despised this album’s musical performances.
I do feel bad saying that though. I feel as if I’m not being fair to this release because I’m not a fan of the genre. The Cherry Thing does have a clever idea at its core – each track on the album is a cover of another artist, which means all the lyrics and themes are quite solidly developed and come together quite nicely to create a strong core concept. There’s some of the best rapping I’ve heard in ages from a female vocalist on “Accordion”, the band’s cover of the MF Doom track. “Cashback”, the only original composition on the album, has a great message about how commodified the music industry has become, “You treat me like cashback…. / You read me like a book, and when you cash me / Oh cashback, you spend me / You trash me, casually”, sings Neneh Cherry, milking the metaphor for all its worth.
But in the end, my honest opinion of this album is not incredibly high. I just wasn’t sold on The Cherry Thing, no matter how hard Neneh Cherry and her wonderful vocal chords tried to convince me she was for sale. Feel free to disagree.
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