There’s that wonderful scene in an episode of The Simpsons where, at a Planet Hollywood-themed restaurant or some such, Homer is shown various artefacts including, the script to the movie The Cable Guy. It hangs on the wall in a frame. Homer smashes the glass and rips the script to pieces – muttering “stupid Cable Guy script, almost ruined Jim Carrey’s career” (Here’s the scene, in Spanish, for extra effect!)
I have a separate post to make about how Cable Guy is one of the greatest showcases for Jim Carrey’s talents – but for many years I have wanted to do something similar to a copy of Terence Trent Darby’s Neither Fish Nor Flesh; his second album which tanked so hard that it didn’t matter to all but a dedicated few that the two albums that followed it were rather brilliant.
I bought Fish at the time and made myself love it – because The Hardline, the debut album by Terence Trent D’Arby is one of the most important albums in my lifetime – I was going to call Terence Trent D’Arby an unheralded genius. But he had announced that himself. This was a major part of the problem.
The press labelled him “The British Prince” and Terence talked a good fight – but certainly walked one too. In the years when Purple Rain and Sign O’ The Times and Thriller and Bad were so dominant, so important, he was carving a path to the side by going back to reference Sam Cooke, by bending a different form of funk into pop songs – but there was no humility, particularly in the interviews. Terence was the greatest. But without the overt charm of when Muhammad Ali had told you that about himself.
And so, then the difficult second album…
And it was far too difficult for the record company.
There was no gentle, beautiful ballad like Sign Your Name, no obvious funk-crunching pop-rock radio hit like Wishing Well or Dance Little Sister – in short, nothing to rival (and in particular, to repeat) the magic of that debut.
And despite trying my best to like it – the way you did when you acknowledged fandom – I drifted away from the Fish Nor Flesh album very quickly. It couldn’t compete with Prince’s Batman soundtrack as far as I was concerned.
The first time I revisited Terence Trent D’Arby – beyond that magical debut which signed its name across my heart back in 1987 – was when a friend played me Symphony or Damn. Four years had passed since Fish and the world was ready – again, if tentatively – for TTD. This was a damn good symphony of songs…
And Vibrator – the album that followed that – was maybe not quite as good but its highlights were stronger, in particular the showcase Holding On To You.
So then I had a new problem: An artist I liked with a finite career had one dud album. This bugged my happiness. I had to own Neither Fish because I had albums 1, 3 and 4. That steaming # 2 had to sit on my shelf. So I jumped back in…tried again. Fell for it for a bit. Then decided that, no, it was actually a turd.
And then just recently I went back to it again.
And look – a lot has happened to Terence Trent D’arby since all that…
For a start, he done changed his name to Sananda Francesco Maitreya. No, really.
I even interviewed Sananda (unless it was his publicist posing as Sananda, but I can’t be sure that Sananda doesn’t – also – pose as his own publicist!?) The important thing to note was that I DID NOT INTERVIEW TERENCE TRENT D’ARBY!
As Sananda Maitreya, there are still albums. They are batshit-crazy. There are gigs. And these include some of the best of Terence Trent D’arby’s songs. Some, but never all. The new batshit-crazy material is always front and centre.
So that all made it too hard to care about the middling/weird/crap/possibly-still-genius second album from back when he was trading under another slave-name.
And then I played it again. And again. And fuck me cautiously, but this really is a lost classic.
The ain’t-it-funky-now Brown-isms of You Will Pay Tomorrow, the perfect bridge between Hardline and Symphony that is To Know Someone Deeply Is To Know Someone Softly, the gospel-exuberance of I’ll Be Alright (which is basically the music Stevie Wonder should have been making around this time) and the beautiful, astounding, revelatory – and strangely just right for right now I Have Faith For These Desolate Times. He was even keeping up with the Prince of Alphabet Street (and the Lovesexy/Batman-era) if you listen to Roly Poly.
I think TTD was right on the money. He is (or was) a fucking genius.
But people don’t like hearing that. They sure weren’t prepared for it in a pre-Kanye world.
In this Covid-world (and the hopefully soon-to-be post-Covid-world) Neither Fish Nor Flesh is strangely just right. A sign for these times? It’s been hiding in plain sight for 30 years, like so many “Commercial Disasters” that record companies buried.
Shit That’s Good! Crap Albums I Love is an occasional series here at Off The Tracks