Terence Trent d'Arby emerged in 1987 amid a storm of publicity. Claiming his debut record was the best since Sgt. Pepper, his brash arrogance captured headlines throughout the U.K., eventually winding their way back to America — which, ironically, is the exact opposite of how d'Arby conducted his career.
During the early '80s, d'Arby was a soldier for the United States Army. While posted in Germany, he joined a funk band called Touch, which marked the beginning of his musical career. After leaving the Army, he moved to London, where he recorded the demo tape that led to his record contract with CBS. D'Arby's first single, "If You Let Me Stay," rocketed into the U.K. Top Ten upon its release. Its accompanying album, Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent d'Arby, was also a massive success, hitting number one and spending over a year in the top half of the chart.
D'Arby didn't have a major hit in the U.S. until 1988, when the sparse funk of "Wishing Well" hit number one. The ballad "Sign Your Name" followed it into the Top Five and Introducing ended up selling over two million copies.
All of the success — both commercial and critical — had d'Arby poised as a major act, artistically and popularly. D'Arby's mix of soul, rock, pop, and R&B recalled Prince in its scope and sound, yet his sensibility was grittier and earthier. At least they were at first. By the time of his second album, 1989's Neither Fish nor Flesh, his ambitions were more nakedly pretentious. The record carried the weighty subtitle "A Soundtrack of Love, Faith, Hope & Destruction" and attacked many self-consciously important themes, including homophobia and environmental destruction. In addition to the self import of the lyrics, the music added a variety of new textures, from Indian drones to straight-ahead '50s R&B.
All of the added baggage was too much for his audience and Neither Fish nor Flesh dropped off the charts quickly, without so much as one hit single. It took d'Arby a full four years to record a new album. When Terence Trent d'Arby's Symphony or Damn — an album containing many of the same ideas as Neither Fish nor Flesh, only better executed — was released in 1993, it received favorable reviews, as well as some airplay on modern rock radio stations and MTV. It was enough for d'Arby to regain some credibility, yet it wasn't enough to make the album a hit. Two years later, he released TTD's Vibrator, which received the same fate as Symphony or Damn.
Though d'Arby didn't make his commercial return until the early 2000s with Wildcard!, he remained active during the intervening years. He extracted himself from Sony and signed on with Glen Ballard's Java; an album titled Terence Trent d'Arby's Soular Return was recorded but never released. In 1999, he fronted INXS for the group's performance at the opening of Sydney's Olympic Stadium; later that year, he could be seen on TV as Jackie Wilson in the mini-series Shake, Rattle and Roll. After obtaining the rights to his Java album, he went about starting his Sananda label and eventually issued Wildcard! through the Internet. D'Arby had his name legally changed to Sananda Maitreya and, by the end of 2003, Wildcard! had received official release in most territories. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine