Neneh Cherry - The Versions album review: These cover versions are a fine tribute to Cherry’s glory days
For a long time it looked as if Neneh Cherry didn’t have much interest in keeping her glory days alive – that period in the late Eighties when the Swedish musician was proving women could sing and rap in the same song, and mixing hip hop, dance and pop in a way that would foreshadow everything from Lauryn Hill’s hip hop soul to the melting pot sounds of Massive Attack. She prioritised raising a family over hanging in a buffalo stance, leaving an 18 year gap between her third solo album in 1996 and her fourth in 2014.
In between she occasionally worked with jazz groups such as The Thing and RocketNumberNine and since her return, her concerts have focused mainly on the darker, more cerebral material she has been recording with electronica producer Four Tet. The pop star of the family is now her daughter Mabel, 2020’s winner of the Brit Award for British Female Solo Artist.
Now 58, even as she returns to her old material here, the focus is away from Cherry herself. Here are 10 cover versions, all by female artists, of her best known early work, including two takes on Manchild and two varieties of Buddy X. The closest link to the early years comes with the appearance of another daughter, TYSON, who was the bump when Cherry famously performed Buffalo Stance on Top of the Pops while heavily pregnant in 1988, and also the baby in the video for Manchild the following year. She takes away the bouncy piano line of Cherry’s 1992 song Sassy in favour of something slower and smokier. Her version sounds more like the relaxed neo-soul of Erykah Badu and her ilk, as does Jamila Woods’ equally unhurried take on Kootchi.
One of the biggest names here is Robyn, another pop act who has become more musically sophisticated as she has developed. She dares to mess with Buffalo Stance, slowing it right down in a manner that loses the excitement of such a radical song but keeps the indelible melody.
The other is Sia, the consistent hitmaker who was taken into Cherry and her producer husband Cameron McVey’s home during a difficult period in her early career. She uses her strident voice on a fairly faithful interpretation of Manchild, but it’s Kelsey Lu’s version that is more intriguing with its rumbling bass and delicate string section. All told, it’s a fine tribute.