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