Neneh Cherry: Broken Politics review – raw-silk empathy in a shattered world

(Smalltown Supersound)

Big issues litter Broken Politics, Neneh Cherry’s fifth solo album. In that beautifully snagged raw-silk voice, she sings about abortion, refugees, gun violence and the ease with which conspiracy calcifies into assumed fact these days. But it never feels heavy-handed. The closest Cherry gets to defining a manifesto comes in Synchronised Devotion: “It’s my politics, living in the slow jam.” That in itself is pretty gnomic, but taken in terms of R&B slow jams – which emphasise leaning into every feeling – and the nonstop collision of worthy issues vying for attention, it makes sense. The challenge that Cherry accepts, and aces, is remaining empathetic in a climate predisposed to desensitise.

Broken Politics is Cherry’s second album produced by Four Tet’s Kieran Hebden. Their last collaboration, 2014’s Blank Project, was often stark and brittle. This one is softer, using kora, flute, steel drum and harp as the rippling beds for Cherry’s often fragmented observations and admissions. The loose instrumentation lets Cherry lead the way: her lines often sound extemporised, shifting easily between wisdom and soulful desolation. The effect is intimate yet expansive. A couple of more aggressive songs reflect Cherry’s origins in Bristol’s post-punk scene – the clubfoot bass drag of Kong, the fuzzy boom of Faster Than the Truth – and establish an atmosphere for Cherry to make sense of who she was and how to keep that person close.

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