After a near 20 years away from the spotlight as a solo act, Neneh Cherry’s return in 2014 with her Kieran Hebden-produced album, Blank Project, was justly welcomed with adoring praise. Blank Project was unlike anything the artist had presented in her solo career of 25 years. And, yet, it was also typical of her work, with the album really just another expression of her irrepressible optimism and infinite resourcefulness. Whereas in the past Cherry daringly explored hip-hop by tweaking the genre to such incredibly skewed dimensions, Blank Project opted for a strange kind of minimalism. Stripped down to a base of just drums, synths and voice, the album examined a certain spaciousness in sound and emotion, whilst still mining the deep grooves of hip-hop, albeit in a nearly unrecognizable form. In fact, the spontaneity of Blank Project recalled much of the free-spirited punk of Cherry’s early ‘80s post-punk band, Rip Rig and Panic, a collective that mixed the unruly fires of punk with the hip-freeing heavy grooves of funk. Very much a work of heart, Blank Project detailed Cherry’s life in the wake of her mother’s death and her role as a mother, wife and artist. It was a long and much appreciated return for the artist who always offered a fresh and unique perspective in the wide, vast landscape of pop music.
Cherry re-releases Blank Project again, this time with a selection of remixes from the album. This isn’t the first time Cherry has commissioned a series of remixers to rework her material. The artist’s 1996 album, Man, was also the subject of a remix project called Neneh Chérie: Remixes, featuring a set of French producers and remixers. Blank Project Deluxe essentially takes its cue from Neneh Chérie, with a second disc of tracks from Blank Project being reworked into funked-up minimalist grooves that trade in the original versions of the tracks’ chunky beats for more brittle and angular affairs. If anything, these remixes are essentially exercises in demonstrating the versatility of the original versions and the loose and improvised constructs of Blank Project’s rhythms. It would appear that Blank Project lends itself quite easily to some free-form fuckery with its earthy, makeshift grooves. A number of the remixes, like Matt Karmil’s take on “422”, a lithe, sonic rewrapping that stretches out the atmospheres with some minor percussive clatter, take a less-is-more approach. Other remixes, like Loco Dice’s version of “Everything”, reconfigure the original versions as groovesome but often tuneless house stompers, which remove the edgy vocal phrasings and grittier textures featured on the parent album. Some remixes, however, are rather beguiling; the Cooly G remix of “Everything” turns in a boxy, funkified throb of rhythm that is as brilliantly asymmetrical as the original. On the chewy, percussive shuffle of the Bouvet reworking of “Out of the Black”, there is a warm electro-sheen that provides the number with a texture that is soft and welcoming.
Too often, however, the rough-hewn rhythms and emotional core of the original album are either buried deep beneath the studio trickery or excised completely. Thus, those looking for some harmless beat-ravished fun might like to take these remixes for a curious spin. But if you want a work full of passion, blood and deep-seated emotions, simply stick with Cherry’s original album.
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