Terence Trent D’arby – “Neither Fish nor Flesh” (1989)

March 16, 2010 at 2:58 am (Music, Reviews & Articles)

Mark Coleman’s Rolling Stone review from issue #566 (Nov. 30, 1989) of TTD’s ambitious, impenetrable second album…

Well, he really believes it. Terence Trent D’Arby’s second album is his bona fide genius move, a self-produced, self-arranged and self-written musical statement that’s just as ambitious, brash and maddening as the boasts he’s made in interviews. An inconsistent concept album, Neither Fish nor Flesh doesn’t prove all the claims made by D’Arby; that is, it fails to establish him as a visionary pop godhead. It does, however, demonstrate convincingly that he’s far more than a mere legend in his own mind.

D’Arby’s fascination with the inner-directed pop epics of the late Sixties – apparent in the luridly self-indulgent title as well as in the many orchestral flourishes, snatches of laughter and gusts of feedback scattered throughout the record – would seem trendy and predictable if his consultations with the hippie muse hadn’t shaken something loose. The eager-to-please hit singles from his 1987 debut, Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arby, sound like tight-assed parodies of soul music compared with the overwhelming one-hit-to-the-body grooves on side 2 of this new album.

In fact, D’Arby delivers something a lot closer to the real nitty-gritty this time around – despite his aspirations toward Messianic rock stardom and partially because of them. Neither Fish nor Flesh may not be profound or even completely original, but sorting it out sure is fun – and you can dance to it.

Beginning with a simple voice-and-guitar declaration – “I Have Faith in These Desolate Times” – D’Arby casts himself as a spiritual pillar of strength in a stormy, troubled world: His confidence is audible, even seductive. But just when you think he’s auditioning to be the third Indigo Girl, the percussion tools start clicking and the drums kick up a polyrhythmic coda. Your next stop: the twilight zone of post-hallucinogen psychedelia.

From that point on, each successive cut builds up D’Arby’s head of steam. “It Feels So Good to Love Someone Like You” finds him stretching his falsetto to its Smokeyest reaches among discordant sighs from a disembodied-sounding string section – an effect taken straight from Sgt. Pepper and Pet Sounds. “To Know Someone Deeply Is to Know Someone Softly” playfully repeats an ersatz jazz-fusion riff, until the band gets serious and D’Arby dips into his bag of sure-fire lady-killing lines. “I’ll Be Alright” is a straight-ahead, pumping soul workout with a rock edge; it could pass as a track from one of Johnnie Taylor’s early-Seventies efforts on Stax. For all that, D’Arby seems less insistent about pointing out his R&B lineage; he screams less and lets the rhythm section testify.

“Billy Don’t Fall” reflects the involved sexual etiquette of our era. To the out-of-tune groan of a fuzzy garage-band guitar lick, D’Arby offers what solace he can to a smitten gay male friend: “Billy my friend don’t fall in love with me…. I’m not that kind of guy…. But I’ll stand by your side.” Patronizing? Perhaps, but you also get the idea that D’Arby is not merely expressing knee-jerk tolerance, that he’s trying to free his own mind by addressing a subject shrouded in taboo and prejudice. And these days it’s nice to be reminded of rock’s capacity to raise consciousness.

“This Side of Love” inaugurates side 2 with a Princely crotch rhythm, affected moans and another nagging guitar hook – this one a stinking, bloozy line that doesn’t suggest Jimi Hendrix so much as Grand Funk Railroad. On “Attracted to You,” another horny shiver riff lifted from Prince’s trick bag gets bombarded by heavy guitar runs and itchy keyboard licks, until the resulting cosmic slop recalls Funkadelic in full flower. “Roly Poly” also acknowledges D’Arby’s debt to George Clinton: It mirrors the spare synth melodies of the P-Funk leader’s Eighties work while hinting at a hip-hop-funk fusion. Playing right on the money all the while, the band jiggles the beat on “Roly Poly” just enough to replicate the unpredictable excitement of a rap DJ’s scratch mix – and just enough to subtly remind us that it’s 1989, after all.

D’Arby preaches the gospel of karma on “You Will Pay Tomorrow,” underlining the music’s baroque early-Seventies feel with a crackling wah-wah guitar. He keeps his vocal histrionics more or less in check and displays a surprisingly steady hand with the Willie Mitchell-inspired horn charts. He hasn’t fully conquered his tendency to excess, however – the damn strings do him in. D’Arby evidently could not be satisfied simply making “You Will Pay Tomorrow” a gospel-rooted tour de force – his “Prisoner of Love” or “Love and Happiness.” He had to throw in the Sound of Philadelphia, some Superfly-Shaft soundtrack moves and a few more cues from “Strawberry Fields Forever.” Such overindulgence is unavoidable at this sumptuous a musical smorgasbord, of course – and it’s hardly fatal.

You can call this album – or Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814, for that matter – pretentious and overblown. But, however tangled their motives may be, D’Arby and Jackson are pushing themselves, taking chances, while most of their peers would be petrified by the very idea of risking their commercial success. No doubt Jon Bon Jovi will produce, write and arrange his own Sgt. Pepper-like stab at immortality at about the same time the New Kids on the Block crank out their Exile on Main Street. Rockers in the late Sixties and early Seventies were expected to redefine themselves with each new release, while the majority of young musicians in the Eighties feel compelled to refine their craft on album after consistent album. Professionalism rules.

Terence Trent D’Arby may not really be a genius, and so what? Neither Fish nor Flesh proves he’s gripped by a powerful creative spirit and has the will and the guts to follow it, wherever it leads. What will he do next? As long as he remains convinced of his own brilliance, rest assured it won’t be dull.

Mark Coleman

3 Comments

  1. aeonbubble said,

    ++++++++++++ symb oF ++PERSECUTED++++++++++ ARTIST

  2. Bruno Lopes said,

    i´m listening this album today, 2014, and it sounds great! Perharps it was an album ahead of its launch.

    • jmucci said,

      It was very underrated… his next album, Symphony or Damn, was even better.

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