By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
He's full of shit, full of himself, full of genius. D'Arby's sly pretensions--here, a concept album about spirituality titled Terence Trent D'Arby's Vibrator; digs at supermodels next to pleas for resurrection; Memphis horns intertwined with metal guitar--have always confounded the critics and failed to dazzle the consumer; he was an arrogant godsend in 1987, written off by 1989, Lenny Kravitz by 1993. But he's Prince all the way, a devout man whose religion can be found in "fat wet lips on a seesawed canvas" (whatever that means); a multi-faceted artist fluent in the languages of funk and pop and soul, dancing recklessly in that middle ground where others are nailed to the floor; and finally, a performer so far over the top he's never destined to hit bottom.
If modern-day R&B has become too sterile an entity--sugary-sweet love songs doo-wopped and la-la-la-ed to death by Boys too young to know love from a crush--then D'Arby is Al Green recast as runway model, threatening and soulful and sexy as he grasps for women's bodies so he can get to their souls. Over a bass line so funky it stinks, as they used to say at Stax, D'Arby picks up a woman by telling her, "If you were any more beautiful, I'd have to kill ya," offers to eat her like watermelon rind, then he rhymes "stupid" with "Cupid," so unabashed is he at embracing the clichŽs.
But the guy's guilt-ridden like no one since Prince at his Lovesexy lowest, forgiving his own sexuality by explaining it away as metaphor for redemption and salvation, finding his Maker in the church between his ladies' legs. "I need my soul for the next world, but I need my body for this one...and your's," he says in one of the album's more hilarious spoken-word asides; in another, he claims to be the "hermit and the love thief" who's paid for the "privilege with tears of grief."
And so TTD doesn't escape without a few unintentional laughs, but he can't be laughed away: no matter his outrageousness, his ridiculous patter and oft-comical lyrics that make Barry White seem like Bob Dylan, there's no denying his stunning voice--part defiant growl, part seductive whisper, equally at home beneath the sheets or behind the pulpit whether crooning a ballad or licking his...um, lyrics. There's unmitigated passion in those words, no matter how stupid those words might be.