Gig review: Neneh Cherry at Stylus, University of Leeds

Neneh Cherry at Stylus, University of Leeds. Picture: Anthony Longstaff
Neneh Cherry at Stylus, University of Leeds. Picture: Anthony Longstaff
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With Mabel riding high in the UK top 10, Neneh Cherry can perhaps be forgiven for being a proud name-dropping mother.

‘Deep Vein Thrombosis’, she notes, was written in a hotel room in Leeds while travelling with her youngest daughter. Its simple, repetitive bass line and shaker is unlikely to have endeared her to fellow guests but it is indicative of the slow groove of her fifth album Broken Politics.

A reflective release that sees her once again collaborating with Kieran ‘Four Tet’ Hebden, it’s a blend of brooding R&B and electronic dub jazz. Layered with delicate tendrils of pizzicato harp, world percussion, and minimal beats it has a subtleness that’s not well suited to a venue that echoes with clatter and chatter.

In this context the tracks that work best are those with immediacy or familiarity. The trip-hop ‘Black Monday’, which is a response to a pro-abortion march in Poland, and the dubby ‘Kong’ are reminiscent of Massive Attack’s Mezzanine, even before the realisation the latter was co-written with 3D.

Former single ‘Natural Skin Deep’ is also a winner, Cherry busting a couple of dance move as she intones, ‘My love goes on and on,’ over a steel drum and misjudged air horn.

This laid-back approach is far removed from the sassiness that was associated with her as a trail-blazing hip-hop act in the late 80s. Her expletive laden banter nonetheless retains an endearing lack of self-consciousness, aborting ‘Faster Than The Truth’ when she loses her place in the chorus (“I’m not going to say it’s a sign of old age…”) and getting the audience to chant messages of self-empowerment.

Her ambivalence towards nostalgia (“I kind of hate it but I kind of love it…”) results in a loose-limbed, sub-karaoke version of ‘Buffalo Stance’, and the down tempo ‘7 Seconds’ is undermined by the non-complementary foghorn voice of the deck-twiddling maestro.

It has, however, also seen her constantly evolve her sound and find a comfortable groove in which there’s ‘slow release, no pressure, no pressure…’