There's a genius in there somewhere--a genuine artist instead of a bullshit artist, Prince instead of Lenny Kravitz. But that's Terence Trent D'Arby for you, an egomaniacal would-be superstar when he debuted in 1987 with the audacious Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D'Arby (hit single: "Wishing Well") and the would-be cult artifact eight years later, done in once upon a time by his incredible arrogance and now ignored for his unflinching refusal to be one thing or the other. He isn't R&B, can't be labeled soul, doesn't fit rock or pop, so of course he's all those things and more--a desperate man among simple Boyz, Al Green without the subtlety, Prince without the mystique, the Beatles without restraint, Smokey Robinson in search of his Miracles (or is that miracles?).
Like Prince, Al Green, even Sam Cooke or Marvin Gaye, D'Arby has a hard-on for Jesus and preaches the gospel of poontang; he's religious till he gets laid, then he finds Jesus between the sheets. Which is no sin unless it's Lovesexy, just the acceptable vice of an R&B artist for whom funk, soul, even gospel are so interrelated and interchangeable--music that moves the body and the soul, sung from the stage or the altar with equal passion. It was an idea he began dealing with on Terence Trent D'Arby's Symphony or Damn in 1993 ("She never wanted to be my neon messiah," he claimed) then took it to its fruition on Terence Trent D'Arby's Vibrator earlier this year--an album so in-your-face and in-your-pants, so full of shit and brilliance, so undeniably soulful and funky that you can't tell whether to take him seriously or laugh him all the way to cult status. Symphony or Damn is probably his masterpiece (though 1989's Neither Fish Nor Flesh could be, if anyone could understand the goddamned thing), but Vibrator is more captivating, inviting, complete.
"I need my soul for the next world, but I need my body for this one...and yours," he moans during one of several spoken-word interludes on Vibrator; if nothing else, he's the sinner who feels guilt-ridden and seeks redemption in the arms of a Mirabella cover girl, or the guy with the best pick-up line in the room. But as the violins sweep behind him and the bass line thumbs beneath, he projects the kind of hard-line soul that's been all but eradicated from modern-day R&B, which is dominated by children who front barber-shop quartets; it's old-school soul, an enormous kind of sound that used to come from Stax when Isaac Hayes worked there or from Atlantic when Aretha Franklin found the down-home soul in a string section on songs like "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman." Only difference is Aretha never offered to eat her man like watermelon, an offer Terence extends on Vibrator with complete sincerity--what a pal.
Terence Trent D'Arby performs November 20 at Deep Ellum Live.
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