Neneh Cherry & The Thing – The Cherry Thing

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Significantly better than I thought it would be, given the hip(redacted) choices for covers (in order of when they appear: Suicide, Martina Topley-Bird, Madvillainy, Don Cherry, The Stooges, Ornette Coleman; only two of the songs here are originals) – was expecting pandering nonsense plus the over-emoting trappings of vocal jazz, to be honest. And despite the fact that my initial reaction to their cover of “Accordion” was to yell “blasphemy” at the lack of accordion and indeed, Neneh Cherry sometimes losing herself to said trappings, it’d be stupid to deny how the song manages to capture your attention through its 6 minutes through controlled climax (as heard in the use of the song’s introducing lines as its chorus and how each becomes more chaotic than the last), as well as Neneh Cherry flipping “Giving y’all nothing but the lick like two broads” to “Giving y’all nothing but the kick like two broads” (fucking excellent!) and the way she squeezes out the exclamation “Ooh Lords” in the following line (super sexy!).

They update the bombast and groove of Martina Topley-Bird’s “Too Tough to Die” (whom you might recognize as Tricky’s muse; her debut album, Quixotic, which contains the song in question, did an admirable attempt at updating trip-hop’s limited palette with pop and rock and resulted in one of the better trip-hop albums of the 2000s), and Neneh Cherry herself does some really interesting vocal gymnastics that Topley-Bird didn’t (ie. the 2:20 mark; you’ll know it when you hear it). Meanwhile, it’s a treat to watch them mutate “Dream Baby Dream” (one of Suicide’s best post-Suicide songs), slowly letting the melody unravel over its 8-minute lifetime; hearing the counterpoint between Gustafsson’s Coltrane-esque approach and Äleklint’s melody-focused horns is something else. And as expected for Don Cherry’s step-daughter and a band that named themselves after him, their cover of “Golden Heart” – elevated by the effects added to Neneh Cherry’s voice – is one of the album’s best.

As for the originals, Neneh Cherry contributes opener “Cashback” while the Thing write “Sudden Movement” and both artists sound much more natural than some of the covers – why wouldn’t they? Cherry’s “Cashback” is the album’s catchiest thanks to the cadences of the choruses bolstered by Äleklint and the insistent rhythm throughout; even when Cherry hands the reigns over to Gustafsson, he doesn’t sacrifice the song’s vision despite his artistic differences. In contrast, “Sudden Movement” has Neneh Cherry taking on a more minimal role (delegated to theme duty) so the Thing can truly unleash themselves for one of the few times on the album.

The only cover here that doesn’t work is Ornette Coleman’s “What Reason Could I Give” (originally found on the rather excellent Science Fiction) because without the juxtaposition of, again, control and chaos that made the original so interesting, something’s lost, though even this one is hard to write off thanks to the few Thing bits that aren’t related to the original (ie. Mats Gustafsson’s shronking sax once he breaks free of the melody; Ingebrigt Håker Flaten’s bass solo). And while Pitchfork’s Lindsay Zoladz has this great description for “Dirt” (the Stooges): “‘Dirt’ has the deliberate, menacing stomp of a 10-foot swamp monster learning how to walk”, it’s a sound that gets old really quick, and none of the players let loose until the second half. In other words, the album ends on a mediocre note.

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