Terence Trent D’arby – Neither Fish nor Flesh: A Soundtrack Of Love, Faith, Hope, And Destruction (1989)

Terence Trent D'arby - Neither Fish nor Flesh: A Soundtrack Of Love, Faith, Hope, And Destruction (1989)
Artist: Terence Trent D’arby
Album: Neither Fish nor Flesh: A Soundtrack Of Love, Faith, Hope, And Destruction
Genre: Soul / R&B
Label: Columbia
Released: 1989
Quality: FLAC (tracks+.cue)
Tracklist:
Decleration: Neither Fish nor Flesh (1:43)
I have Faith in These Desolate Times (4:14)
It Feels So Good yo Love Somebody Like You (3:38)
To Know Someone Deeply is to Know Someone Softly (4:27)
I’ll Be Alright (5:57)
Billy Don’t Fall (4:20)
This Side of Love (5:00)
Attracted to You (4:01)
Roly Poly (3:54)
You Will Pay Tommorrow (4:54)
I Don’t Want to Bring Your Gods Down (6:19)
…And I Need to be With Someone Tonight (3:04)

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Bursting onto the scene with the soulful “If You Let Me Stay” in 1987, Terence Trent D’Arby (he was never resigned to a singular moniker) both riled and riveted music critics with his brash, walking headline, quote-grabbing persona and his boundless creative talents, smooth soulful voice and multi-instrumentalist artistry. Proclaiming his debut release Introducing The Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arby as “the greatest album since Sgt. Pepper’s” was just one of the ways he would be assured of press coverage and attention. Thankfully, he had the talent to back up the boasts and the album rose to the top of the charts worldwide, producing a four-hit collective including “If You Let Me Stay,” “Wishing Well,” “Sign Your Name,” and “Dance Little Sister.”

For all the success that Introducing The Hardline would bring, it also set expectations for the follow-up and a desire by many for it to be a carbon copy. But rather than repeating himself, he challenged and channeled himself to create a sonic adventure that pushed his artistic vocabulary and expanded his musical horizons.

The result was 1989’s sprawling Neither Fish Nor Flesh (A Soundtrack of Love, Faith, Hope and Destruction). Upon its release, the album was quickly skewered by music critics who decried the lack of Introducing The Hardline cloned songs and after the release of the dark, rock-funk indebted lead single “This Side Of Love,” the album stalled, failing to be fully supported by his label.

For us fans however, this was indeed D’Arby’s Sgt. Pepper’s—a dream of sound delivered with a sense of wonder, exploration and surety. Here was an artist both following and leading his muse into new territory while bringing along a few of the comforts of home.

The album kicks off with swelling guitar strains as D’Arby recites a short poem that states, “So I’m not your pearl / to this I am resigned / But…to an outside world / I will not be defined / For I am neither fish nor flesh.” A reflection perhaps on being the momentary media darling and ultimately media whipping boy, as well as a promise that what was to follow was not something that could be tightly packaged and pigeonholed. And deliver on that promise he does.

With the opening song “I Have Faith In These Desolate Times,” D’Arby uses the beauty in his voice to create a wandering melody accompanied only by a harp that strums and plucks to accent his lyrical content. It’s at once mesmerizing and deliciously challenging. The warmth of his rippling vocals draws you in over a period of three minutes before the song kicks into gear with Middle Eastern inspired beats and off-kilter guitar funk licks. It’s a soul-funk-meditative-cacophony bundled jam that bleeds into the haunting beauty of “It Feels So Good To Love Someone Like You” that melds whale calls with sitar guitars. The weeping melody drifts in and out like crashing waves on a new shore as D’Arby’s vocals circle above. There’s a relaxed mantra-like feel to the song that builds in urgency in the final moments.

The first two songs challenge the notion of composition and play with the expectations of modern pop song structures. There’s a sense of abandon and exploration at play. As if slowly sharpening his gaze on what he wants to express.

It all comes into focus with the romantic “To Know Someone Deeply Is To Know Someone Softly.” But this isn’t a paint-by-numbers ballad. It’s a journey of sweet attraction set against a bossa nova inspired groove that twirls and dances in soft subtle shapes. The lyrics are as romantic and evocative as any by Porter and just as seductive. It’s a nod back and a look forward. A song that inspires and fills the heart with hope and slow, soft passion. It’s a song I fittingly fell in love with at a time when I was discovering what a deep love meant, and things came full circle when it played as the bridal waltz at my wedding. To me, it’s one of the most romantic and soulful songs ever written and recorded. Understated and unpretentious, it expresses desire and fulfillment so wonderfully. An apex in the D’Arby cannon, it deserved a wider audience than it received upon its release as a follow-up single and if you haven’t heard it, I encourage you to take the time to surrender yourself to its beauty.

With three slower paced songs opening the album, D’Arby switches things up with the Motown inspired “I’ll Be Alright.” With an extended preacher intro, the song grooves along with a strutting confidence that is all trademark D’Arby. But even within this straightforward soul, D’Arby takes a few risks with the way he staggers the backing vocals throughout the song as it builds to its revivalist heights with blasting horns, whirling organs and rocking piano tinkering.

These classic soul moments are sprinkled throughout the album as evidenced on the bouncy “Billy Don’t Fall” that tells the coming-of-age story of a gay friend, and the blissful funk jam of “Attracted To You.” Both of which nod to the finer moments on Introducing The Hardline whilst also stretching their wings a little.

It’s when D’Arby is pushing into new territory that he is at his most compelling. The aforementioned “This Side Of Love” with its dark and raucous rock and psychedelica is like a murky LSD trip into love unrequited. The layering of instrumentation beneath the main melody is unsettling and anxiety building, but also has a moment of levity with a brief string rendition of “Mary Had A Little Lamb” for good measure.

Likewise, the hypnotic “Roly Poly” with reversed drum groove and bubbling-beneath-the-surface bass is a joy of production with every passing bar offering something new to discover from Pac Man samples to African talking drums, horns and strings, and jibber-jabbering backing vocals. It’s slightly demented, but in the most delicious of ways.

Part of the joy of the album is that it is unrelenting in the way that songs segue into each other or end suddenly and before a breath can be taken, a new wonder takes its place. It ends up being an extended one-two punch that doesn’t let up.

The way “Roly Poly” flips into the funk-fueled sermon of “You Will Pay Tomorrow For What You Do Today” jolts you for attention. The reverse grooves of the former give way to jittering funky snare rolls and wah-wah guitars (and what’s a song without a Kazoo solo, right?).

Staying in preacher mode, D’Arby moves into the gospel tinged soul of “I Don’t Want To Be Your Gods Down.” Vocally, D’Arby lays it all on the line, and (as is the case for most of the lyrics of the album) seems urgently desperate to pack in as many words into the vocal melody. As if trying to keep pace with the thoughts racing in his mind.

Album closer and acapella tour de force “…And I Need To Be With Someone Tonight” is a reminder of the power of D’Arby’s voice in both sweetness and surrender. Lyrically he balances the concerns of the world with the truly overpowering dread of loneliness. As he puts it, “Though apartheid’s a greater issue / I long to hear ‘I miss you.’”

Fittingly the album ends with a scratching record and D’Arby having the last laugh. He didn’t follow blindly and create the follow-up people clamored for. Instead he made the album he wanted to. One that challenged and defied expectations. Whilst some called it career suicide, for me this was what artistry is all about.

Despite its less than stellar critical and commercial success (or maybe in spite of it), Neither Fish Nor Flesh remains the most timeless album of the D’Arby canon and an album I place in my Top Ten of All Time. And whilst it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it is worth taking a sip and letting it brew.

Oh, and for the reader who is wondering, “What ever happened to Terence Trent D’Arby?”, He went on to record several engaging albums following this, before having a creative rebirth in which he assumed a new moniker (Sananda Maitreya) and still releases albums to this day. To get a great perspective on this musical journey revisit our Portrait of the Artist playlist which covers the expanse of both of his musical incarnations.
by Andy Healy

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