Broken Politics is a lovely album. Its enjoyability fluctuates with circumstance, yes – it’s an album best enjoyed on an early morning or a late night, when one is seeking to shift a neutral mood positively – but in any context, it’s a charming and intelligent work. Most importantly, it’s arresting, which is no small feat, given that it’s a gentle and unobtrusive work with few hooks or bangers. It’s an album of soft spoken dignity and quiet self-assurance, fully secure that what it’s doing will speak for itself without advertisement.
The lyrics are, absolutely, the strongpoint. There are moments of Erykah Badu-esque wit and Joni Mitchell-esque introspection, but Cherry’s voice as a writer is very much her own. She favours unusual metaphors (Deep Vein Thrombosis is mentioned), which are sometimes cryptically mixed (Cherry is a “Pisces hanging on a vine”) and unpacked with relish when the music gives her a chance to do so. Her sense of kinship with “Fallen Leaves” is in part because she is down, and in part because she is at risk of being stepped on. Moreover, Cherry has taken to heart one of the most overlooked creative writing adages: concrete images are stronger than abstract. There are few references here to love, justice or heartache, but there are mentions of bird shit on sleeves and dramatizations of tense physical struggles.
With the lyrics, then, providing clear narrative and thematic through-lines, Cherry is then freed up to go abstract on the music. Within the basic template of lose beats and arpeggios of synthetic sound, Cherry hides a menagerie of genre-jaunts and indulgences. “Natural Skin Deep” borrows from the softer moments of Ornette Coleman in its third act and mixes up a brew of horns that blends free jazz with Memphis soul ; “Slow Release” plays with layers of minimalistic woodwinds and echoing piano chords. In the hands of another artist, the whole thing might flighty and cluttered, but as singer and lyricist Cherry’s dignified yet confessional persona is consistent enough to tie the whole thing together. This is her story, however she tells it.
The whole thing is strengthened by some gorgeously warm production values, which takes advantage of Cherry’s seeming preference for arpeggios over chorded harmonies to emphasize and experiment with the timbre of each individual note. It works wonderfully with Cherry’s voice, which is a fascinating thing in itself: thin but agile, with just a little bit of roughness that hides in the edges and shows during the more dramatic pitch shifts.
Are there flaws? One or two. “Faster Than The Truth” employs a drumbeat that’s distractingly similar to “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover”, and while that seems intended as a direct homage, it feels a bit odd in an album that otherwise feels so confidently itself. Once or twice, the spiralling layers of melody feel like they get away from Cherry’s control; “Black Monday” definitely feels like a bit of a ramble at times. But these are minor issues, even on these tracks themselves. Even after listening to it multiple times a day for a week, Broken Politics is still an album I look forward to hearing. It’s sincere, intelligent and strong, and comes highly recommended.