"Raw Like Sushi." Virgin. ****: POP STARS ***** Great Balls of Fire **** Knockin' On Heaven's Door *** Good Vibrations ** Maybe Baby * Ain't That a Shame
Sassy, silly, socially aware, hep-talking, hip-hopping and above all headstrong--this is singer/rapper Neneh Cherry, who, on the strength of her debut album, could and should be the next superstar of black music, a genre that could use a female superstar or two.
Her astonishingly fine and vital "Raw Like Sushi" dips into any number of great pop traditions--from early soul to modern scratching and sampling--but bears the unmistakable stamp of a unique, living, breathing human who would eventually have to be invented if she didn't already exist.
The lead track, "Buffalo Stance," may be the year's best single, good for instant replay after replay with its tough, sweet street-talk and a brilliantly mixed-for-stereo synthesizer obbligato that won't quit. This offers a tease of what's best about the whole LP: The way Cherry moves from a rapped verse into a sung chorus and back again has all the charming ease of the way the best movie musicals effortlessly glide from dialogue into extravagant production numbers.
Though Cherry is English, her accent sounds unaffectedly New Yawk-ish at times, which doesn't hurt the gritty feel of the Big Apple-focused "Inner City Mamma."
And when you think of comparisons here, you think of the greats: the ballad "Manchild" sounds like something man-child Michael Jackson himself might have come up with, only more melodically inventive; "The Next Generation" and "So Here I Come" are innovative party blowouts that recall the finest Prince jams; the slicker "Heart" sounds like what Diana Ross would be doing if she still had integrity, and the way Cherry reads the signs o' the times--on everything from urban depression to the cautions and celebrations of childbirth to "sexual survival"--easily puts her in Marvin Gaye's class.
Is this the essential dance long-player of the year or what?
SI CHRIS WILLMAN