Feb 6 2022

Album Review: Neneh Cherry – Raw Like Sushi (#MWE)

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to introduce… the hi-hat.”

The opening track, lead single, and main event of Raw Like Sushi is “Buffalo Stance,” which is a perfect song. The track is a funky mash of glossy 80s pop and underground hip-hop, an endlessly fun clapback at shady gigolos, and something of a mission statement for Neneh Cherry, a Swedish-born artist who was raised by other artists (and is the half-sister of 90s hitmaker Eagle Eye Cherry). Notably, the album cover features Cherry showing an example of the “buffalo stance,” a mean-mugging pose that, according to her, represented the attitude needed for survival in inner cities.

I intend to give “Buffalo Stance” its own devoted post at some point, so for now I’ll just say I love the song so much I demanded it be played at my wedding. I’ll also say that the song is a hard act to follow, but Cherry is more than ready for the challenge. Raw Like Sushi serves as a voice to marginalized women of color and their male-dominated communities, a refreshing perspective for 80s pop, or any era of pop, really. It’s also an absolute thrill – a head rush of styles and sounds from the world of pop, rap, New Jack Swing, jazz, and other stuff I probably didn’t even catch.

Another excellent single, “Kisses On the Wind” tells the coming-of-age story of a confident woman who learns to control her fate with the men in her life, featuring spoken-word Spanish dialogue throughout and a heavy hip-hop break halfway through. “Inna City Mama,” meanwhile, is deceptively upbeat, with shuffling percussion and hammering piano solos surrounding a treatise on the despair of urban life.

Cherry is dominant and clever in her raps, but also maternal and compassionate; famously, she recorded and promoted the album while pregnant. Alongside dance-heavy bass hits and horn samples, she delivers a message of advice to young women in “The Next Generation.” The carbon-dated 80s production surrounding Cherry may have aged considerably, but the message remains an important one.

“Hearts” shows up a little over halfway thru, a full-on New Jack Swing banger with a schoolyard taunt rap bridge and skittering samples that you won’t find on a Bel Biv Devoe single. Things slow down a bit for the synth-heavy “Phoney Ladies” before kicking back into gear on the Paula Abdul-esque “Outre Risque Locomotive” and the poised closing track “So Here I Come.”

Raw Like Sushi was forward-thinking in 1989 with its melding of genres, and it remains optimistic in its message of female empowerment and assertive display of streetwise swagger. Even in the 21st century, it’s a fun and hopeful body of work. The lyrical realities are vital, but the vibe is club-ready buoyancy. Neneh told you at the beginning: it’s sweetness that she’s thinking of.

Score: 7/10

May 4 2010

Rocking Retro: Neneh Cherry

Raw like sushi, indeed.  Let us not forget the one-hit talent that was Neneh. Her lone hit “Buffalo Stance” peaked at #3 in the USA back in 1989, but she’s had more international success in recent years.  And that song is still banging, even after twenty years.  So don’t get fresh with her.

Watch the video to see where modern-day indie divas find their image.  You’re welcome, MIA.