I can’t believe I missed out on Neneh Cherry Raw Like Sushi first time around, all the way back in 1989; I only picked it up 10 years ago, like some Johnny-come-lately no-mark.
Raw Like Sushi is a fascinating melange of hip-hop, electro, soul and dance. It somehow manages to sound exactly the way Neneh Cherry does on the cover – defiant, sexy, tough, feminine and cool all at once. I love that picture because she looks far more like she’s about to do a big dance workout than any sexy sex stuff, the way that most young women seem to get marketed then and now. It was a big LP over here, I remember ‘Buffalo Stance’ and ‘Manchild’ being played out a lot, but they never quite registered fully with me, which was my loss.
Nothing seems to age quicker than 80s/90s dance music, it was all too dependent on that week’s tricks and flips. I’ve replayed some tunes I remember dancing to and liking a lot back then and musically it just doesn’t stack up anymore, the nostalgia’s the only value it has left. Raw Like Sushi has some clattering electro-style beats that any ardent hip-hopologist can date within a 6-month period, but it has so much more than that, a real spirit and feel. Chuck in some great tunes and you have something special. So it is very much an LP of its time but it is much more than that too.
Nobody needs me to bang on about Neneh Cherry’s unusual background and musical roots, so I shan’t, for once. She fetched up in Bristol with hubby Cameron McVey (aka Booga Bear) and they tapped into all the nascent talent of that city’s fertile music scene, several future members of Massive Attack feature on Raw Like Sushi*, as well as Tim Simenon** and all make their mark on this here platter. There are a whole raft of various producers and arrangers in the mix too and it has the feel of a big, joyous collaboration because Neneh Cherry’s personality binds it all together so strongly into a focused whole.
- Buffalo Stance: ‘No moneyman can win my love / It’s sweetness that I’m thinking of”. The sweetness of her vocals over the electro clatter of the beats just ticks all the boxes. Tune!
- Kisses on the Wind: A sassy growing up tale, that deals with puberty and actually sounds like New York. The Hispanic vocals on it are brilliant.
- The Next Generation: A knowing rap about motherhood and the perils of too much promiscuity, I love its’ admonishment to guys ‘To be strong and to love us like through thick and thin with your heart and your soul, not the size of your dick’.
- So Here I Come: Yet another sassy, funky growing up tale, with a message of independence and healthy lust, plus the least subtle play on the word ‘come’ this side of David Coverdale.
What draws me into Raw Like Sushi today is the real feminine strength of it all. Flash boys and crimnals get dissed for trying to act all cool and predatory, as do all the women who cheat and lie to their sisters; sex is very much to be enjoyed but only when it’s right to do so, promiscuity for its own sake is dismissed as disempowering and limiting. If Raw Like Sushi has a message it is strength: strength through femininity, strength through motherhood, strength through sisterhood and strength through independence^*. As the father of a teenage daughter, this is a message I can wholheartedly get behind*^.
If I was looking to make comparisons to anyone else’s sound the closest I could come is to say I hear Prince’s influence permeating the album, certain phrasing and keyboards, especially on the sex-plosion of ‘Outré Risqué Locomotive’^, which just has those NPG chord clashes going on. Other than that I really couldn’t say this sounds like anyone else then, or now and that’s a really great thing to be able to write and what makes Raw Like Sushi such a gem.
No moneyman can win my love
It’s sweetness that I’m thinking of.
We always hang in a Buffalo Stance
We do the dive every time we dance
I’ll give you love baby not romance
I’ll make a move nothing left to chance
So don’t you get fresh with me
Amen. Now how exactly do I stand like a buffalo?
PS. Whilst the music still sounds fresh the videos at the time have aged horribly. This is by far the besat of them:
*their incredible debut LP Blue Lines was partially recorded and produced in their back room.
**1537 fave Bomb the Bass.
^*not that the LP is remotely preachy, there’s far too much joie de vivre going on for that.
*^on Father’s day, no less. Goddamn I’m topical!
^an ode to marital woogie-woogie no less.