If anyone born in the 1980s or later asks the former generation about that decade, especially anecdotal, they’ll more than likely get a nebulous, yet wide-eyed narrative, similar to the music of the time. Since the release of albums like The Love Below/Speakerboxxx and 808’s & Heartbreak, that minimalist production and cosmic crooning have become the underlying factor in the success of such artist like Frank Ocean, Alessia Cara, and The Weeknd. The rhythm and lyricism of rap combined with the synthesized haziness from a bygone era filled with decadence has brought its finer points into focus. While many names come mind, few match the lyrical prowess that defined Terence Trent D’Arby or Sananda Maitreya’s music.
In a time where Rock music and R and B were coming together to create some Rock and Soul hybrid, some giants dominated music’s landscape. Sananda, then known as Terence Trent D’arby, proved to be one of the clearer signs of the time. His raspy falsettos coaxed sonic images of Eddie Kendricks and Patti Smith at once. His spiritual song meets modernist poetry, ‘As Yet Untitled’, crushed the line between spoken word and hauntingly poignant contemporary vocals.
When Maitreya surfaced in 1987, his vocal range and androgynous visage drew comparisons to the greatest Pop artists of the time, but as time went by, songs like ‘Vibrator’ proved that he was more than a mere representation of his influences or contemporaries. He continued in the style of his debut’s less heralded tracks by flipping religious imagery, a tendency many of his contemporaries seldom broached. He soon went from echoing his influences to becoming one himself. As a multi-instrumentalist, his voice uniquely maneuvered around and in unison with the instruments he was often credited with playing himself. ‘Dance Little Sister’ proves a great example of his penchant for varied melodies as he used the horns as a call and response device against his voice.
In his debut, Maitreya’s raspy James Brown influenced moments set him apart from the recognizable melodies of the time. Introducing The Hardline According to Terence Trent D’arby’s opening track featured vocal layering and subject matter that was more in line with the likes a of socially conscious artists such as Bob Marley. While Marley utilized falsetto back-up singers to add texture to his own deep crooning, D’arby inverted this technique in ‘If You All Get To Heaven,’ by using himself as a group with a lower crooning to complement his versatile vocal range. It is also arguably the most lyrical song on the album.
Songs like ‘Neon Messiah’ and ‘Vibrator’ truly encapsulate Maitreya’s identity as an artist. His rhyme schemes approach rap like dexterity, while the funk infused Hard Rock and Soul mixtures. The lyrical meaning in many of his songs began to master ambiguity, showing the vocal assurance that his voice provided for so many years. This time in his career evinced an even stronger departure from his wildly successful debut that placed possibly the heavy importance expected from his sophomore effort. Songs like ‘Billy Don’t Fall’ with its salient message decorated much of Neither Fish Nor Flesh.
The title and background of Maitreya’s second album in some ways defined his career path. He was erected as a threat to some of the biggest stars of the era, which means he became inextricably tied to them. His debut became more about the threat he posed to other artists rather than his journey as a musician, effectively robbing him of his individuality in many respects. After the hype machine dissipated, he was able to make waves as the perennial Rock and Roll mystic that eventually guided his trajectory and those he influenced.