In a couple of years, this album may well be heralded as a stylistic breakthrough. In the meantime, Homebrew, Neneh Cherry's second record, holds a stash of subtly addictive pleasures. Anyone who appreciates both alternative rock's indomitable spirit and hip-hop's life-affirming rhythms is bound to get hooked on Homebrew's unique sweet-and-sour taste.
and "Manchild" bubble with fresh pop-funk energy and a refreshing feminist awareness, but more often her rainbow sorbet of rap, R&B and rock flavors seemed a tad too
conceptual, more compelling in theory than practice. Homebrew
, on the other hand, supplies the opposite effect. The album seems slight at first; it goes down velvety smooth and then
renders an eye-opening soul punch.
The big difference isn't improved rapping or singing though Cherry crisply proves herself in both modes but her soaring transitions from speech to song. "Sassy" opens the album and sets the mood; over a slinky groove, Neneh holds her own with guest rapper Guru. She deflects his spaced come-ons with crooning frankness, proceeding to throw down like a Bronx-born rhymer on the chorus. "Money Love," the next cut, upends all the usual gold-digger stereotypes with power-chord fury. Cherry cheerfully barks out the straight-up rock & roll chorus, plugging right into the always-relevant current of Barrett Strong's "Money" and the O'Jays' "For the Love of Money" while making her own point.
Rather than merely rip off hooks from the classics, Cherry, along with her producer-husband Booga Bear and coproducer Jonny Dollar, employs samples as a sort of cross-reference. She's devoted to the musical past but not dependent on her record collection. "I Ain't Gone Under Yet" constructs a deep jazzy strut out of an acoustic bass and high-hat tidbit; Cherry's fluid scat-like fusion of singing and rhyming matches the innovative music note for note. And those snazzy vocal touches serve to emphasize the assertion of identity spelled out in the lyrics.
Ushered in by the creepy chords of Steppenwolf's "The Pusher," the oddly titled "Trout" demonstrates just how far Cherry has come since her debut. Featuring guest vocals by Michael Stipe and well-intentioned sloganeering about sex education, "Trout" is a pop public-service announcement that actually cuts it as a song. Those two distinct voices converge in a pleasing blur on the chorus, while the presence of Neneh's funkiest rap to date adds a dynamic contrast without distracting from the wake-up-call message. And that grainy late-Sixties guitar lick still hangs in the air like a fatal OD.
Cherry also taps into the Sixties soul-music tradition of social observation and personal testimony. "Buddy X" is a zinger of an advice song; imagine Johnny T