Wipe Off The Dust: Taking Another Sip Of Neneh Cherry's 'Homebrew'

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Can Neneh Cherry ever escape "Buffalo Stance"? Probably not, as the song is massive and sort of overshadowed whatever Neneh put out further---which is where Homebrew comes in. Raw Like Sushi, Neneh's 1989 debut album, is a landmark entry in alternative hip-hop for women. In fact, I would dare say further that Neneh Cherry also had a hand in mixing soul, down-tempo, and jazz into hip-hop to produce an earthier tone to where The Roots, Erykah Badu, and Common (hell, most of the Soulquarians) carried that tradition in later years.

1992's Homebrew is a different affair from Raw Like Sushi. Sushi rocks on a poppier plane and possesses a real spunky and tough B-Girl attitude to where Neneh strode alongside Queen Latifah and MC Lyte. Homebrew, on the other hand, lounges around in it's ambiance snatching glimpses of R&B, trip-hop, and smoky Jazz (no doubt a homage towards her step-dad, Jazz trumpeter, Don Cherry), and really everything in-between. With guest spots from Gang Starr, R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe, and Lenny Kravitz, the eclecticness is what makes Homebrew such an overlooked batch that does indeed cast light on the fact that Neneh had actually outgrown "Buffalo Stance" and was headed into refined and cerebral material. Yet, *sigh* you know how this story goes, when an artist tries to escape that one big hit album/single, and dares to be different on the sophomore set---it tends to go over some people's heads.

Homebrew extends on Neneh's past, taking some from her early punk rock days and enhancing the moody moods that made up the filler material on Sushi. It's not really hip-hop, until Gang Starr's  DJ Premier and the late Guru show up on the gritty opener "Sassy"---or whenever Neneh finds herself in a spoken word state. There are a multitude of textures that bubble up on this set in very unexpected (yet awesome) ways.

"Money Love" is accessible, funky and quite Janet Jackson "Black Cat"-esque, but the real craft comes in with "Move With Me". A seductive stunner that steps into the same vein of Madonna's "Justify My Love" in all of it's smolder and sex---and well, no wonder considering that Lenny Kravitz had a hand in co-writing it as well. It mirrors the same grimy tunnel sound of "Justify", but in some ways (and I know I'm committing Material Girl Sin), I prefer "Move With Me" over "Justify" any day. Something about it's gradual climb and Neneh's vocal performance just feels more fulfilling and enjoyable.

Move With Me

Neneh and Michael Stipe sound exceptional together on "Trout", and it's really criminal that this song didn't go past the college radio circuit and hit the mainstream back in '92, well, maybe because the song hinted at safe-sex---and in the 90's there were enough of those PSA's going around, still it was a quaint merging of the minds. On another hand, there are a few songs on this that I wish I could have written, as Neneh shines when she gets on her feminist soapbox, like when the guys of Gang Starr return to add some dimension to "I Ain't Going Under Yet", and rides it on a killer sparse Jazz beat. Also "Peace Of Mine" in it's thick smog of a groove has poignant things to say, as does my favorite, "Red Paint" that is a brightly done soulful bounce that is a contrast to the song's topic of loss before it's time. Another guest spot to note is future Portishead member, Geoff Burrows, who pens the trip-hop stunner, "Somedays" and is yet another gem of a moment on this set as well as is a nice precursor to what was to come of the trip-hop movement.

Speaking of Kravitz, "Buddy X" is notable not only in it's minor hit status (it barely cracked the Top 30), but also because Neneh wrote the track about Kravitz himself, alluding to the fact that he's well...a cheating bed sheet romper. Note that this song was released probably around the time Kravitz was on the skids with wife, Lisa Bonet (Denise Huxtable to all you TV heads), so in a snarky way Neneh is probably just calling a brother out on his cheating game, and in the most catchiest and funkiest way possible.

Buddy X

Neneh and her husband, producer Cameron McVey (known as Booga Bear) managed to successfully pull together all genres on this, yet Homebrew doesn't feel bogged down with them, and the flow of it makes for great listening. In all of her eclectic style, Neneh is definately a game changer whose name, to my ear, never gets mentioned in the mix of other female MC's and innovators of the "neo-soul" movement. Maybe she was hard to classify in one genre? Or maybe folks wanted the same type of vibe and sass of "Buffalo Stance" and got put-off by the variance on Homebrew enough to warrant it a chart bomb? Or maybe people just didn't pursue Neneh's music beyond Raw Like Sushi? Whatever the (lame) reasons, Neneh's Homebrew is really something to drink up, or to take another sip of if it didn't give you a nice buzz the first time.


  1. This was a great piece. "Homebrew" is really epic, and as you said she pioneered many alternative fields others kind of took credit for.

    Neneh kinda had a big hit with "7 Seconds," a mid-90's hit with Youssou N'Dou, featured on her last album "Man" (1996) which is thoroughly alternative. I recommend "Kootchi," "Woman," and "Feel." Deffo round out your trio of Neneh albums if you haven't heard this.

    By the by, "Manchild" and "Kisses on the Wind" are my favorite singles from her debut.-QH

  2. Neneh is one of my faves from forever ago. I liked her collabo with The The in 1986 (that video, how could you not notice her? :-) then Raw Like Sushi came out!
    I still listen to it, as well as Homebrew and Man, my favourite.

    The great thing about Neneh (that and the fact that she looks like a nice person to hang out with) is that she never backed down, she always pushed her sound forward and wasn't scared of making changes. That's brave, considered she's not blessed with the strongest voice.

    Favourite songs from Man: Woman (great meaningful video), Trouble Man (great cover), Kootchi and Together Now with Tricky.

  3. QH:
    Thanks :) Yeah, I feel people sleep on Neneh too much. I truly believe without her where would neo-soul be? She should be right there with Badu and The Roots, but sadly is never mentioned. I've always liked her persona, like Kit said, she looks like she's a cool person to just hang with, plus she had a lot of ideas going on in her music that is to be admired. I like 'Man' a lot too---another album ahead of it's time. I wish should would follow it up, but I think Neneh is doing other things now, last I heard she was doing a cooking show!

    While looking things up for this piece I found out her association with The The! Had no idea. Going to have to YouTube that video. She does look like a cool person to hang out with (a lot of the 90's singing gals did!) and I agree she was always doing something different and yes, her lack of a voice probably hindered her in some aspects, but I think for her it fit.

    Thanks to both of you guys for sharing your favorite Neneh tracks, and glad to know there are some other Neneh fans out there!

    As for my fave Neneh tracks, "Move With Me", "Kisses On The Wind", "Love Ghetto", "Phoney Ladies" and "Woman" round out the cast---and of course "Buffalo Stance"!

    There's a really great piece about Neneh here if you guys wanna check it out. Very informative and fun:

  4. The article was great Jennifer, I just favorited it on FB. I'm glad I own all her stuff, she really did proceed so many folks and never compromised herself in the process. Thanks for sharing. By the by, the Nabiha album is epic. Get a physical copy, it is worth it.-QH

  5. Here is the video: http://youtu.be/1zU2rG-vrJE
    (I'm a HUGE The The fan btw)
    I also dig her take on "I've got you under my skin".
    Miss her solo records. Never really got into her CirKus singles :-)

    (ah, thanks for the interesting link)

  6. ah I forgot, a bit for you:

    Interviewer: What can you remember about recording Slow Train To Dawn with Neneh Cherry? How did you meet her?

    Matt Johnson: I was looking for a singer for Slow Train to Dawn for quite a while. I first saw Neneh singing with the group Rip, Rig and Panic but it was her work on Float Up CP that really caught my imagination. I arranged to meet her round my flat and got her so drunk on vodka she almost fell down the stairs. She was a joy to work with, a lovely warm person.

  7. Thanks for sharing the piece, QH. I'm one of those losers that's not on FB so I appreciate that :) Oh, and glad you're loving the Nabiha album, I wanna read your thoughts on it! It's a little firecracker isn't it? I think I'll try to scope out a real copy.

    Glad to share the article, Kit. Oh WOW, at that clip! I'm going to have to get into The The, apparently since I'm a huge ABC fan I should be liking The The too...or so Last.fm tells me, LOL.

    I didn't get into her CirKus stuff either---sort of like with Martika who went all metal-rock (apparently she's coming back to the pop-dance market next year) and Terence Trent D'Arby (who changed his name...). I have this weird thing where the side-projects/after the fame projects of some artists just are for their indulgence--not mine. I know, it's bad of me, a music lover, to be so dismissive of that!

    The only thing I haven't done from Neneh is listened to her punk beginnings. I've had a few friends tell me it's worth a hunt---but I haven't delved too deep.

  8. I got my copy of the Nabiha album for like, $21 after S&H from an Amazon dealer new & sealed. It was totally worth it, solid back to front. The title track is so much fun, "Midnight Blues" is very Meshell (her cadence on the verses mostly), "Red Letter Days" is another highlight. Firecracker describes it right, lots of high energy & expression present.-QH

  9. LOL at last.fm comparing The The and ABC! :-)

    You like 80s synths so maybe you should start with the Soul Mining record (with MY theme song, 'This is the day'). My favourite are Infected (heavy with - somehow a still modern - message but very upbeat and engaging) and the moody but so rewarding Dusk ('Love is stronger than death' is so touching).
    At www.thisisthetheday.com in the sounds/video area you can listen to/watch all you want from different records.


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