The Rock’s Backpages Rewind: Whatever Happened to Neneh Cherry?
Don Snowden delves into the whereabouts of the sassy gal who gave us 'Buffalo Stance' — and attempts to bring her story up to date——Barney Hoskyns, Editorial Director, Rock's Backpages
The original title for this piece was "Ticked Off at a Tick". The reason being that I spent more than a few years operating under the misconception that the Lyme's Disease Neneh Cherry came down with right around the time 'Buffalo Stance' hit worldwide was behind her oh-so-limited recorded output — a mere three full albums in her solo career and then largely dropping off the map after 1996. A journey to Google/Wikiworld set me straight on the Lyme's front — ran its course within a year — but did little to dispel the mystery over why so little music had been heard from someone so talented.
'Buffalo Stance' really had seemed like a clarion call for the dawning of some new day when it burst on the scene. It was simply a glorious song, pulling diverse musical strands together into a cohesive whole that was catchy as hell and most importantly signaled the arrival of a new artist with the potential to be highly influential, a young woman who projected strong, sexy and streetwise in equal measure.
Certainly Raw Like Sushi delivered on that promise and displayed the range of the sources Cherry was capable of drawing off and would draw on in her songs with impressive savvy and insight. Even as 'Buffalo Stance' told off gigolo suckers in no uncertain terms, 'Manchild' used swelling strings to accompany its portrait of a young man coming of age. And 'Kisses in the Wind', with its mix of street-verite girl rapping and recurring Jimmy Castor 'Troglodyte' sample, is an even better snapshot capturing a particular life moment from a young woman's perspective. Not that I would have any way of knowing for sure, but "Boys, boys/Wrapped around her finger/So young/Making love was only dreaming" just seems to freeze-frame a phase of some young girls' lives perfectly. Who turn into 'Inna City Mammas' and wind up bouncing the "Next Generation" on their laps, all grist for the songwriting mill here and enough to suddenly make me wonder if there was some sort of (conscious or unconscious) concept design at play with the sequencing. Off Raw Like Sushi, it was hard to picture any finer model for that incipient "you go, girl" generation than Neneh Cherry — mixed race, mixed cultures, mixed musical styles, hell, everything in the mix and Neneh Cherry very definitely in command of determining the outlines of her own final mix.
It figured the level of early-career mass popularity afforded by 'Buffalo Stance', coupled with a fresh songwriting approach that made savvy use of the mix 'n' match, scratch and sample techniques then on the cutting edge of R&B/hip-hop would set Cherry up for a long run as a new school diva with smarts to burn. It should have become even more inevitable when she followed Raw and the Lyme/tick interlude with arguably her greatest single performance — the devastating version of Cole Porter's 'I've Got You Under My Skin' on the Red Hot & Blue AIDS benefit CD.