Melody Maker | Album | 10 June 1989
RAW LIKE SUSHI
"Raw Like Sushi" is an LP blessed with a highly personal touch, one that clearly captures the spirit and the character of Neneh Cherry. It draws upon the influences of her New York upbringing, the experiences of a punk turned mother and, most obviously, her current fascination with the London club scene. There is humour and sensitivity, pride and humility, pain and playfulness, anger and sadness. It's very much a work of honesty.
As such, it's fitting that Neneh's cohorts are an amorphous mixture of friends and relations, rather than business associates. They range from her brother Eagle-Eye to Tim Simenon of Bomb The Bass, from one-time Roogalator Nick Plytas to The Wild Bunch's Nellee Hooper, who also had an important part to play on the Soul II Soul album. With the help of these and others – including the enigmatic Booga Bear, co-writer throughout and the LP's executive producer - Neneh has come a long way from the ramshackle uproar of Rip Rig & Panic.
Neneh Cherry's ability to switch musical styles, to tempt different tastes, can be proved by a quick comparison of the hump hop of "Buffalo Stance" to the superbly silky opulence of "Manchild". The two singles are the opening songs of the album. The first remains fresh long after its release and will, in years to come, probably be considered one of the finest examples of the late 1980s club sound. But "Raw Like Sushi" includes a host of other vibes too.
"Phoney Ladies" has a similar diaphonous quality to "Manchild", the gentle hip hop beats layered above the swell of a new age symphony of keyboards. "The Next Generation" is toasted warm by African chants, while Hispanic chit-chat, congos and ripples of piano give "Kisses On The Wind" a Latin bawdiness. The latter is likely to be the next single, although almost anything here would be an admirable choice. The escape from "Love Ghetto" takes the form of a home run in a baseball game, the crowd roaring encouragement, and "Heart" is based on a playground rhyme – "Chocolates, bananas, doughnuts, salami – it ain't gonna fit cos you're full of baloney," taunts Neneh.
Despite the frequent frivolity, the LP delivers serious messages too, particularly with "The Next Generation". The song reveals Neneh's love of children and a couple of the lines could be construed as a disapproval of abortion. It's also about accepting consequences – "If you're gonna do it, think before you do it, then do it right... right?" – and the fact that responsibilities, of whatever sort, can't be ignored. The subject of "Inna City Mama", which documents the cold-blooded cruelty of urban life, a life from the gutter to the grave, is no less poignant.
A triumph of a post-feminist philosophy, an expression of a broad social conscience, a winner at home, in the street and on the dancefloor, "Raw Like Sushi" is an all-round gem. It's sounding good today – and it will be tomorrow.