Neneh Cherry – Blank Project

written by: February 20, 2014
Album-art-for-Blank-Project-by-Neneh-Cherry Release Date: February 25, 2014


Veteran singer-songwriter and rapper Neneh Cherry is back with Blank Project, her first solo album in 18 years. Unfortunately, it was mixed and recorded in five days, which is blatantly obvious upon listening. But even with more time, the ideas fueling Blank Project would have ended in disappointment.

Cherry’s most recent effort is a step away from her previous works; she’s presenting herself as a singer and lyricist rather than the rapper she’s known to be. But despite adding more embellishment to her vocals, her beats have shrunk to an even simpler state, crossing the line from artistically minimal to downright boring.

Sadly, combining the two modifications to her past proved to be a mistake. Shifting to a more soulful, raw singing style was a good idea.

Throughout the album, she’s a bit off-key and unrefined, which adds a charming, natural element to the music at times, but the lack of engaging instrumentals makes the record nearly unlistenable.

The album starts off on “Across The Water,” which is the best song on the record and coincidentally the only song using real instruments. Even though the only thing backing Cherry up is some simple percussion, it’s beautiful, proving that this stripped-down style could have worked with the right execution.

And unlike on many of the other tracks, Cherry is actually putting effort and emotion into her words when she sings, “With my hands across the water, with my two feet in the sea/My fear is for my daughters, but will God wash over me?” Her voice is somber and passionate, the percussion adds a steady and intoxicating pulse, and her lyrics are pure poetry.

Regrettably, this is the high point of Blank Project, which has its moments but ultimately is forgettable. Cherry’s voice starts to lose its luster as she belts out stodgy lyrics over atrocious, jumbled beats. A perfect example follows the mildly entertaining, but still discordant and awkward, title track.

“Naked” is a cluttered mess of mediocrity with a primitive beat and an over-embellished chorus.

It’s difficult to focus on anything other than the unbearable, overpowering instrumentals that drown out Cherry’s nonsensical vocals. “Cynical” goes much the same, though it’s a much more valiant effort. It falls hardest during the lackluster chorus and midway through the track, where the beat becomes mush and Cherry’s distorted voice can’t save it.

Blank Project seems rushed and poorly produced. Despite these fatal flaws, there are some redeeming moments where Cherry reaches her full potential for the vision she’s trying to render.

In addition to the opening track, “422” shows the direction she needed to go in. It’s calm, she’s soulful and passionate once again, and the instrumentals actually complement her for the first time since “Across The Water.” The song is animated and lively, building up on a few occasions to an epic crescendo of touching vocals and rousing, spacey synths.

Then there’s the dancey “Dossier,” which is the best of the fast tracks. It feels more along the lines of what Cherry was trying to reach, but missed for most of the record. It seems a coherent beat and story can work wonders. The chorus still could use some fine-tuning, much like the entire album, but it’s better than the others.

The last track, “Everything,” is once again staunched by crude musicianship, barely keeping it above water. The only factor that saves the song is Cherry’s rap in the middle that reaches back to her earlier career. This is short-lived, however, and eventually backtracks into random bursts of “hey, hey” and crazed dolphin imitations.

Blank Project is a failed attempt at a new beginning. There’s so much potential in Neneh Cherry’s voice and lyrics, even at times in the accompaniment, but the idea crashed and burned.

Neneh Cherry – Blank Project tracklist:

  1. “Across The Water”
  2. “Blank Project”
  3. “Naked”
  4. “Spit Three Times”
  5. “Weightless”
  6. “Cynical”
  7. “422”
  8. “Out Of The Black”
  9. “Dossier”
  10. “Everything”