Neneh Cherry created her own post-hip-hop world — as imagined by a strong, sexy woman unafraid to combine the contrasting methodologies of stripped-down new wave disco and rap. Although Cherry is not particularly skilled as a vocalist, her sass and confidence are so omnipresent they’re practically another musician. Her background — both musical (she began her career with the British art-punk noise band Rip Rig + Panic) and personal (born of a Swedish-African union, she’s the step-daughter of the late trumpeter Don Cherry; Eagle-Eye Cherry is her step-brother) — helps explain her readiness to challenge longstanding traditions. Her partnership with producer/husband Cameron McVey (from the Bristol ether of Massive Attack, Portishead and Soul II Soul) works around Cherry’s shortcomings, and the innovative result is a refreshing change of pace.
Raw Like Sushi is highlighted by the ultra-catchy dance hit “Buffalo Stance,” the Madonna-like percolating pop of “Kisses on the Wind” and such forthright sexual delights as “Outré Risqué Locomotive” (a churning paean to coitus and commitment); at the end of “So Here I Come,” she breathlessly protests, “I came already!” But “The Next Generation” amply demonstrates Cherry’s ability to make a statement without sacrificing a sense of fun. You wind up admiring her so much you wish the album were a little better.
On Homebrew, Cherry and McVey struggle to make the formula work as well the second time. Rather than reinvent the wheel, they broaden the focus to include more of a rock/alternative flavor. Cherry’s thin vocal style is propped up by two prominent (and very different) guest stars who also co-wrote their featured tracks. Gang Starr rapper Guru’s back-and-forth flirty repartee with Cherry on “Sassy” yields one of the album’s best numbers; for “Trout,” she chooses a persona that complements Michael Stipe’s earnest vocals. “Buddy X,” a scathing attack on a cheating husband, plays Cherry’s international homegirl image to the hilt; its call and response chorus is both smart and smart-alecky.