It’s been 30 years since the man “Smash Hits” magazine christened Terence Tea-Towel released his debut album, “Introducing The Hardline According To Terence Trent D’Arby”. In order to understand this album’s significance, one has to place it in context. 1987 was a pretty depressing year as far as mainstream pop music was concerned. The charts were dominated by synthesisers playing on automatic, and whilst some of this (e.g. “Actually” by the Pet Shop Boys) was innovative, much of it was drivel, from the ubiquitousness of Stock, Aitken and Waterman to the sold-out-so-called-black-but-actually-pretending-to-be-white-middle-class-dressed-as-student-on-album-sleeve Whitney Houston. Into this automated bland backdrop landed Terence Trent D’Arby. In a world where album sleeves were dominated by big name producers and corporate logos, I have scoured the “Hardline” packaging, and can’t even find a producer’s credit, and the most prominent logo is a Claude Debussy-esque TTD initial. So a very homegrown package, characterised by a real band playing real instruments. And not a Yamaha DX7 synth cowbell sound within earshot! Needless to say the songs are all written by Terence Trent D’Arby except the final song, a Smokey Robinson cover.
If You All Get To Heaven – An anti-war song, characterised by a very intricate arrangement, that rewards a detailed hi-fi system. TTD swears. Just the once on the whole album, and in the context, it makes the sentiment more sincere than, say, Erasure’s “It Doesn’t Have To Be”.
If You Let Me Stay – The lead-in single from the album. Very soulful singing from Terence. The arrangement COULD have been played on automatic, with synth basses ahoy, but it isn’t. It’s just a good band, playing very tightly. Lyrically, it’s very put together, the song’s protagonist begging his partner to be let him “staaaaaaaay”. The middle 8, however, is the partner’s reply, “Your pretensions aim for gullible fools, and now who needs you anyway….”
Wishing Well – Somewhat pretentiously described as “a tone poem”, it’s actually a very infectious nagging earworm, with a superb horn section.
I’ll Never Turn My Back On You (Father’s Words) – More soul stuff, and actually quite a touching message.
Dance Little Sister – A very danceable soul-funk number, and another single.
Seven More Days – Very atmospheric. Close your eyes and you could be in Cowboy ‘n’ Injun desert and cactus territory!
Let’s Go Forward – Soul ballad.
Rain – Dance number.
Sign Your Name – Another single. When reviewing this album, the magazine “What Hi-Fi” (which used to be a serious publication dedicated to hi-fi, funnily enough, and not fridges and tellies like it is these days) said that if you could only hear Terence Trent singing a solo throughout the song, it was time to upgrade the Alba all-in-one system. If you could hear TTD double tracked on the choruses your system was on the right lines. If you could hear TTD double tracked, some harmonies and a female vocal, then your system was up with the best. Make of that what you will, but this is the only song where synths are used solely. There is a drum machine, a bass-line, a pad, some strings and a flute-like lead instrument. The vocals are very intricately arranged, and I can just about make out a female voice in the “shooo do wop wop” backing vocals.
As Yet Untitled – Terence Trent D’Arby claimed he was descended from the Native Americans, and this song laments the stealing of Native American Territory. It’s sung entirely a cappella. It’s extremely well-recorded, you can hear his breath, gulps and lips smacking together. There are some delicious screams in there. At the end, in near-whisper, he says, “Meanwhile, on the other side of the world…” This is followed by a smack of the drums, and we are into….
Who’s Loving You – Smokey Robinson’s song is given a deliciously “live” feel, with some absolutely gorgeous saxophones. A superb end to a brilliant album.
After such a promising début, Terence’s follow-up albums didn’t exactly set the world on fire, sadly. He released a duet with Des’rée, the “Sign Your Name”-like “Delicate”, then he changed his name to something unpronounceable, and carried on releasing albums that no one has ever heard of. Sad.