September 13, 2010

The other day I was flicking through my CD collection. Like most people, I imagine, I rarely purchase CDs these days; digital music, in one form or another, has superseded the humble compatible disc. But needing a CD to play in my kitchen stereo as I cooked up a mean lentil curry, I found myself perusing that treasure trove of nineties and early noughties sounds. And there it was, twinkling amid the grime like a half-buried diamond in a Yorkshire coalmine: Terence Trent D’Arby’s Greatest Hits.

Terence – from hereon we’ll refer to him as TTD – is a man who, for me, has always invited mixed feelings. On one hand, I have an indefinable and yet inescapable feeling that the man is a bit of a clown: vain, occasionally ridiculous (various photographs could be offered in evidence here) and not perhaps entirely stable; I wouldn’t be entirely shocked to open up the paper one day and discover he’d been found by a social worker, sat at home with his underpants on his head and a pencil up each nostril.

On the other hand, I can’t deny that TTD has (or had) a musical gift. And, whilst he can’t claim to have re-invented the musical wheel, he delivered a brand of soul-inflected pop that didn’t quite sound like anyone else. Plus, he was/is gifted with a voice that, at its best, could make the devil sit up and take notice.

If this dichotomy is encapsulated anywhere in TTD’s music, it is most likely to be found in his 1995 album, Vibrator – his last as TTD, before he reinvented himself as Sananda Maitreya (a name apparently inspired by his dreams…)

Vibrator contains what I believe is TTD’s finest song: Holding On To You. Much more understated than it might have been in the wrong hands, it’s a soul ballad that still manages to pull together layered guitars, strings and horns, moving between laid back verses and a throat-grabbing chorus, and taking in some not bad lyrics along the way.

But if you were to put a copy of Vibrator into your CD player for the first time, you may not make it as far as Holding On To You, which comes in at #3 on the album.

First of all you would come across the title track, Vibrator. Whilst not awful, it eschews TTD’s usual soul template in favour of stomping guitar rock; and you’re never quite sure if the song title and chorus refrain are anything more than a pitiful innuendo.

But there is no need to fear any such ambiguity in track 2, the sublimely-titled Supermodel Sandwich. But wait, it really does do what it says on the tin:

Paris, New York, London and Milan

Perfume bottle towns where funky girls make the rounds

Babes on babes sticky sticky finger wave

If you’re not a girl I’ll never let you touch my pearl

Terence Trent D’Arby. You are no longer with us. You had the voice of an Angel, and the gift of music ran through you like crooked lightning through a battered umbrella. You held in your hands the possibility of greatness, and threw it away on a song you almost certainly wrote whilst beating off to a copy of Italian Vogue. Sleep well, my prince.


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