Swedish singer-songwriter, rapper, and all around renouncer of musical restrictions Neneh Cherry has returned with her first solo album in 18 years, Blank Project, due to be released on February. She is joined by fellow Swede and pop star Robyn on the song “Out Of The Black”- a beautifully produced, minimal piece that combines their voices into a declaration of self.
“Out Of The Black” begins with a breakbeat, recalling Cherry’s many dalliances with trip hop. Minimal synth and bass pick up, altogether forming simple, easy instrumentation. The music glides over you, pulls you along, but not forcefully. We hear Cherry’s strong, personal, and critical vocals first: “Just trying to mind my business // I see the wolf packs congregating on the corners”. It’s easy to recognize her acuity and wisdom in these lines. She doesn’t want to involve herself in what she observes, but by observing she’s forced to, anyway. Robyn comes in with the chorus and the song changes. There’s something dissonant about their voices together. It doesn’t sound right at first. But by the end of it you realize it’s actually completely brilliant.
Cherry and Robyn have different vocal stylings, not necessarily regarding disparate ranges, but certainly in terms of tone. Robyn is a pop singer: bold, sweet, feminine. Cherry is subversive, even in her singing, and more breathy than Robyn, even fragile-sounding. Robyn’s voice complements the electronic elements with its clarity and her enunciation. Cherry takes it out of the electronic and into the personal. I’m vaguely reminded of Dirty Projectors’ harping. If this song was all Robyn it would be unusually calm for her. If this song did not feature Robyn it would be an unusually mellow Neneh Cherry song. But the two of them together hold it in a space that’s entirely new.
“Behind our backs”, “Face the pack”, they sing. The bass follows these lines of thought with an evident, electronic pulse, but not one that is overwhelming or obnoxious. Though music is well composed, it seems almost secondary to the vocals. Robyn and Cherry are making statement of self: affirmations, declarations as successful, experienced women. “I’m Robyn on the microphone into the speaker”, she sings and it’s catchy and it’s true. She is Robyn with a capital R. She and Cherry come together with confidence as the song goes on. While the chorus begins: “Out of the black/ Out of the blue / I just want you / To want it to”, by the end of the song it has changed to: ‘“There are the facts / This is the news: / We just want you / To want it, too”. A melancholy conclusion, perhaps, but a sweet comedown nonetheless.
Pick up Neneh Cherry’s new album on February 25th and if you’re in Europe look out for her tour: