Terence Trent D'Arby

Wild Card

The son of a preacher man, who made his first promotional appearances costumed as the Messiah and once dreamt of Marvin Gaye transmitting unheard music from beyond the grave, Terence Trent D'Arby is no stranger to the spiritual. Until legally renaming himself Sananda Maitreya in 2001, however, and releasing the first overseas edition of Wild Card, the rightful owner of 1988's Grammy for Best New Artist had yet to indulge in the major pop-star pastime of conspicuous enlightenment. But Wild Card-- at least the version of it that has finally arrived on our shores -- is no ordinary post-transformation album. It contains none of the bitterness of Bob Dylan's stint as rock's carping evangelical dad, not a dash of Pete Townshend's grandiloquence, nor Prince's post-conversion prudishness. Instead, Sananda Maitreya is just like Terence Trent D'Arby, if not more so, which makes it easier to accept the seeming paradox of "Terence Trent D'Arby," the name above the title of an album "produced, written and arranged by Sananda Maitreya."

D'Arby, as we'll call him, has worn his heart on his sleeve before, but the sharp insights of his early work only cut as deep as his liquid but somehow guarded singing would take us. Wild Card's ballads are richer in emotion, with D'Arby's voice -- which can still capture grit and sugar in the same note -- sounding, finally, unaware of the studio. The album's single, "What Shall I Do," is a simple, aching cascade of a song that channels the sweet, '70s soul of the Chi-Lites and the Delfonics over a well-made bed of lush bass and guitar jangle. This track isn't the only one on the record that could rescue soul music from histrionics and neo-classic poses. The opener, "Divina," built on an improbably gorgeous combination of banjo and brass section, and the jazzy, clarinet-caressed "Shalom" project their dual mystical/romantic themes from a place that sounds just as close to the center of D'Arby's newly baptized gut.

Like pre-Maitreya records, Wild Card is a little spotty -- particularly the funkier tunes, like the "Sign Your Name"-reminiscent "Drivin' Me Crazy." But even at 19 tracks, the record's ratio of bliss to blah surpasses all but D'Arby's finest work. Anointed by your CD player's holy program-button, Wild Cardis exactly as religious an experience as soul music should be.

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