Festival music review, Neneh Cherry

Leith Theatre

Graeme Thomson

four stars

In the week that the debut album by her youngest daughter, Mabel, entered the UK charts at number three, Neneh Cherry dished out a masterclass in idiosyncratic art-pop exploration which could have doubled as a maternal pep talk concerning the merits of the marathon over the sprint.

Her 80-minute set at the EIF was largely conceived as an extended mood piece, drawing prominently from her latest album, Broken Politics. Cherry’s supple six-piece band, which included her husband Cameron McVey, crafted an atmospheric blend of big beats, laptop soundscapes and heavy bass, overlaid with the fine detail of harp, chimes and marimba.

It was a gradual build, a link chain of steamy slow jams and gently transgressive lullabies confronting current issues such as gun control and abortion rights. The pace and nuance were at times too subtle for a restive crowd, but the shuddering drum and bass firestorm of Blank Project proved thrillingly explosive, while Kong and Soldier provided timely reminders that Cherry was embroiled in dubby sonic landscaping well before her mates Massive Attack appeared on the scene.

While placing the emphasis on her current work, she was canny enough to place her pop hits at strategic points throughout the set. Woman and 7 Seconds were warm and deeply soulful, McVey gamely grappling with the unenviable task of singing Youssou N’Dour’s part on the latter. And while the subtle melodic shifts of Manchild were tricky to negotiate, the mid-song rap was full of fire.

At the centre of it all, Cherry was both playful and fiercely uncompromising. Her voice remains a unique synthesis of sandpaper and silk; her dance moves were martial rather than compliant. She ended with a hard-edged, cut-up version of her breakout hit, Buffalo Stance, which jettisoned something of the pop spark of the original in order to stay true to where Cherry finds herself today. “I’m the kind of woman that was built to last,” she sang earlier in the evening. By the end she had more than proved it.