Blank Project by Neneh Cherry brings together the primal with the sophisticated. The instrumentals on this album are sparse and the beats are raw– at times, tribal. The vocals, though, are very cerebral, contemplative until they’re not. Cherry isn’t afraid to laugh, cackle or squawk when the music calls for it. Each track can stand on its own and they all tell a story. When the album is played through, the listener is rewarded with that feeling of completeness and understanding that comes with finishing a novel—they’re satisfied in a way they may not be able to articulate.
Most of the album’s joy is in the subtleties: a voice crack here, a clever string of words there, a fun bass line yonder. At some times, the subtleties aren’t quite that. Cherry spends almost four minutes musing about getting stripped naked and placed in an unfavorable situation: a powerful sentiment, but with a cliché theme. The album succeeds tremendously with songs like “Dossier,” where Cherry uses a more concrete narrative coupled with a faster tempo and more emphasis on the upbeat. When the metaphors are laid on too thick, it gets tiresome trying to hack through it all. Like a novel, the pleasure in this album comes from the listener putting in time and effort into consuming it. Blank Project is more often Faulkner than Hemingway.
This is Neneh Cherry’s first solo album in eighteen years. Despite her patience in making a new product, the album was recorded and mixed in just five days. The imperfections and limitations that come with that kind of process are some of the things that give the album its charm, its character. By the same reasoning, there are things that one can only think may have been changed if more time was spent on the project. Overall, the album is more than worth a listen. Cherry rewards those willing to wade through the rhetoric and spend time with her lyrics and rhythms. Like coffee shop poetry and avant-garde anything, Blank Project is something that one either “gets” or doesn’t. Blank Project is the kind of album that will have hipsters snapping as enthusiastically as they can muster.