How do we conduct ourselves in extraordinary times? By what metric do we judge our own capacity to make change? In an era where the signal-to-noise ratio is more uneven than ever, what are the measures we must take to retain and remember our own personhood? Neneh Cherry’s extraordinary fifth solo album, Broken Politics, asks these questions and more—searching for answers, patiently and with great care, and with a fearlessness to acknowledge that sometimes the answers don’t even exist. It’s a record that’s equal parts angry, thoughtful, melancholy, and emboldening, as Cherry and her collaborators continue to expand her ever-widening sonic palette to craft truly singular and potent electronic pop.
Work on Broken Politics began as touring wound down behind Cherry’s previous full-length, 2014’s Blank Project, as she felt a drive to continue creating after collaborating on that record with Four Tet’s Kieran Hebden and production duo Rocketnumbernine. “That last album was much angrier and forceful, whereas this one is quieter and more reflective,” she states. “I haven’t always been so good at getting things out so quickly, and it still took a while—but that’s okay.” After a studio session of writing and refining with longtime partner and collaborator Cameron McVey in late 2016, Cherry sent some demos to Hebden as he was flying back to New York after attending a wedding in Los Angeles.
“I’m very shy about taking on big themes with the airs that I’ve got a solution—who has the fucking solutions?” Cherry admits while talking about the album’s title. “I like writing from a personal perspective, and the time we live in is so much about finding your own voice. People have been left feeling misheard, misunderstood, and disillusioned. What the fuck can I do? Maybe politics starts in your bedroom, or your house—a form of activism, and a responsibility. The album is about all of those things: feeling broken, disappointed, and sad, but having perseverance. It’s a fight against the extinction of free thought and spirit.”
And the complex audacities of Broken Politics highlight that Cherry’s collaborators on the album were practical are compatriots in that fight, too. “The thing I love the most about our creativity is our harness,” Cherry enthuses about writing with McVey, who she’s worked with since previous to her iconic 1989 debut Raw Like Sushi. “It was an honest journey.” “Neneh’s a songwriter’s songwriter,” McVey states. “Our creative partnership is a trip. It’s a magical journey we’ve been on for many years now, yet she never ceases to amaze me with her sweet words & melodies.
Indeed, the sounds on Broken Politics possess an impressive depth and variety, from the rippling, windswept chimes of opener “Broken Leaves” to the layers of woodwinds assisting “Slow Release”‘s tense build. There’s a sense of restraint streaked across the album that serves to heighten an overall tension—along Cherry’s passionate, thoughtful lyrics and subject matter.
“I have a name. You have a name. We’re not just these faceless mounds you can put in the ground,” Cherry proclaims when talking about her worldly vision that seeped into Broken Politics. “We’re human beings with lives and stories.” Art can often remind us of how it feels to live in the moment, and it can also be instructive in helping understand how to preserve that moment. Broken Politics finds Cherry at her most generous and benevolent towards a world that is often anything but. She puts it best in the chorus of “Fallen Leaves,” in her own defiant way: “Just because I’m down/ Don’t step all over me.”