The world of rock is full of big egos. Prince, Madonna, Bono and Axl Rose have all been known to be divas at some point or another in their careers. This of course happens only after they have proven themselves after years of hard work. In the case of Terence Trent D’Arby, he was alleged to be difficult right out of the box.
Any New Yorker who changes his last name to something sounding vaguely Euro/Jamaican and goes to England to get discovered might imply the making of an artist with a lot of ambition. While that may or may not be true in D’Arby’s case, his brand of soul certainly connected to a place and time where all things vintage America Negro was in vogue. It seemed there was room for another young start up who had some of the virtues of James Brown,Prince and had some of the vocal mojo of Smokey Robinson or Same Cooke.
D’Arby must have struck a chord, because his debut Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arby was critically acclaimed and commercially bankable. D’Arby like Prince to whom he was compared to so often, wrote, produced and played most of the instruments on the album himself, but it would be that crackle in his voice that drew instant comparisons to Sam Cooke and Negro pop of old (yeah that’s what they called it then). With a little imagination, hearing The Hardline was like hearing a new Sam Cook album from a parallel world. Comparisons to Cook and Smokey Robinson were not uncommon. One of the albums 11 tracks “Who’s Lovin’ You” was actually written by Smokey Robinson in 1960. It was D’Arby’s new take on an old sound that would make him an overnight sensation on both sides of the Atlantic.
The neo soul scene in London embraced him immediately, but D’Arby offered something for nearly everyone. Soul, rock and gospel were fused in a way that sounded like it could have only come from England. Very few if any contemporary American R&B artist were making music with as much depth (this was still a time when R&B was still considered disposable singles based music by record companies).
From Introducing the Hardline… came soft piles of cash as the retro sounding “Wishing Well” and later “Sign Your Name” stormed the charts. After a succession of less successful but chart worthy singles, D’Arby would go on record proclaiming that his debut was one of the most important album releases since the Beatles Sgt. Pepper album. His popularity fueled perhaps by his dreds and vaguely international accent was greater in England than in the US.
D Arby’s impact on the music world would be fleeting. After the euphoric triumph of his debut a more conceptual and experimental album would follow that put him firmly in the punchout bin. While not a one hit wonder, D’Arby was a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stale R&B music scene outside of Prince’s sphere of influence.