Terence Trent D’Arby was, if you remember the mid to late 1980s, considered by many critics to be the greatest soul singing sensation in a long time, the next great hope for soul music, successor to the greatest soul vocalists like Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson, and the most exciting new black artist to appear since Prince at the end of the 1970s. Not much weight of expectation then, eh? All that would be too much pressure for many new artists were it not for the fact that Terence (or TTD as he liked to call himself in the third person) seemed to have excessive confidence in his own self-proclaimed genius and all round brilliant musical powers so that when he appeared with his debut album, he instantly claimed to have made one of the greatest records ever.
Some might say that he had a bit of an ego.
Under a temperamental sun
On the dark hillside of your sorrow
If there’s pain in your heart
Let it go
Just reach inside and let it go
Just to put things into a bit of perspective, here is the debut single that announced TTD’s prodigious talent to the world:
Things might also have been helped slightly by the fact that he was also blessed with impressive genes and bone structure that made him instantly one of the most beautiful men in the world during the late 80s. Thus TTD released his debut album, stunningly called “Introducing The Hardline According To Terence Trent D’Arby”, that featured a number of hit singles in addition to “If You Let Me Stay” (“Wishing Well”, “Dance Little Sister”, “Sign Your Name”) and the album became one of the biggest selling and critically well received of 1987. He toured. He appeared on television. He was big news.
Cue two years later, and the news filters through that TTD is going to release his second album, mysteriously called “Neither Fish Nor Flesh”. The single, with the elongated DJ baiting title of “To Know Someone Deeply Is To Know Someone Softly”, was apparently taught to TTD in a dream by none other than Marvin Gaye. Oh. Was this a sign that his previously somewhat entertaining ego was now well and truly out of control? Was this a sign of something darker and far more disturbing regarding his mental health? Was this simply a case of hype to the max and then let’s ladle on some more hype just to be certain? It could’ve been any or indeed all of the above.
However, what was most important to me was whether it was any good:
I loved it. I loved it back then and I still love it now. I loved it because it was full of soul and romantic yearning (yes, I was young and newly in love back then) and also rather pretentious (as I’m sure that all of my friends would confirm that I was more than a little pretentious at the time – hey, I was a student in the performing and visual arts, so of course I was bloody pretentious) but also I could sense a bit of tongue in cheek humour laying underneath the surface. I loved the rather “dum dum” refrain of the backing vocals, and I loved the sense of freedom that was shown by throwing whatever he fancied into the instrumentation. I love people who are prepared to show a maverick spirit to forge ahead on their own path and do what their spirit and freewill was telling them to do creatively. Prince had it. TTD showed it too.
Listen to me now
In my love garden
I wrestled with an angel
Not in a dream
Her eyes did seem
Like the grapes of the vine
Her lips were made like the gates of Heaven
Not to be missed
Made to be kissed
But not to kiss goodbye
Of course, the critics panned the song (and the following album) as the pretentious ego fuelled meanderings of a prodigious talent with no focus and no control, and then it sold as close to bugger all as you could possibly achieve back then in 1989.
It essentially killed off not only the career of Terence Trent D’Arby but it also had a massive impact upon the man too.
He managed to put together another two albums of equally diverse but slightly more focused epics (the equally fantastic “Symphony Or Damn” in 1993, and then “Vibrator” in 1995) which followed the same basic pattern of smooth soul, tight funk workouts, 60s inspired rock beats and the occasional stripped down piano and vocal only ballad. Each one promised a critical and commercial rebirth for TTD but the ghost of “Neither Fish Nor Flesh” would inevitably be exhumed to slap down TTD’s ego and remind everyone that he was capable of failure.
What kind of world do we live in where the boring consistency of your typical acoustic singer-songwriter of the twenty-first century is somehow seen as preferable to a person who decide to use harps, bongos, kazoos and other exotic shit in the making of music that is prepared to be brave rather than boring? Oh yes, the world that is run by people who hate anything that is not as boring and as mediocre as they are. Sorry, I forgot that the music interested is run by the likes of Simon Cowell who clearly has no interest in music.
Well screw that – I totally love “To Know Someone Deeply Is To Know Someone Softly” (and I equally love the whole of “Neither Fish Nor Flesh”) precisely because it is exhuberant, joyful, fun, free and (yes) utterly bloody pretentious music made by a person who might be as mad as a box of frogs… I DON’T CARE IF HE IS MAD, NOR IF HE CHANGED HIS NAME AND IS LIVING AS A MONK WHO ONLY EATS CAMEL SHIT ON A DAY WITH “X” IN IT… this music is utterly and completely brilliant and compelling and fun and serious and I am so grateful that I listen to it every so often so it can put a big stupid bloody grin on my big stupid face.
Sorry… I had to let that out.
Actually.. I’m not sorry at all. If you don’t agree with me, screw you but in a polite and friendly way obviously.
Once a flower opens
It never closes
Until it dies
And the it lies
Amongst the roses
I wanted to play her like
A black grand piano
Or lyric soprano
Of course, the story does not finish with that marvellous rant. TTD had another dream – a dream that told him to follow independence, to stop chasing pop stardom, and start on a musical rebirth that would be based around following his singular vision without compromise to the industry of selling music “product”. So he went away and changed his name to the one that he had a dream about. Terence Trent D’Arby is now called Sananda Maitreya and he now releases music under this name. He calls his music Post-Millenium Rock. His latest release is an opus entitled “The Rise of the Zugebrian Time Lords”. Yes, it is a concept album. It features a couple of Beatles songs mixed in with some 60s sounding rock and soul.
It sounds pretty similar to “Neither Fish Nor Flesh” to me, and that is not a bad thing in my humble opinion.
So let’s remind ourselves why he was considered to be “the next Prince”. Enjoy this live version, especially the one dodgy note that proves that TTD was as human as any other musician (mixed with a very funky version of “Attracted To You”):
I want to think that we might eventually end up living in a society where the likes of TTD are welcomed for the amazing talent they have, and are not criticised because they display behaviour that could be best described as eccentric if not perhaps a bit ego-centric.
Don’t get me started.
Here’s some Sananda Maitreya from “The Rise Of The Zugebrian Time Lords”:
Still wonderful. Still wouldn’t have him any other way.