D'Arby isn't taking 'Hardline' anymore

July 11, 1993|By Robert Hilburn | Robert Hilburn,Los Angeles Times

Terence Trent D'Arby is suddenly the toast of pop -- again.

Rarely has a performer arrived on the scene with as much flamboyance as Mr. D'Arby did in 1987 when the New York native's dazzling talent and bold persona made him a sensation, first in England, where he launched his career, and then in the United States. Among his colorful assertions: his claim in a British interview that his debut album was better than the Beatles' legendary "Sgt. Pepper's."

That debut album, titled "The Hardline According to Terence Trent D'Arby," sold more than 8 million copies worldwide, and critics compared him to everyone from Sam Cooke to Prince.

Yet few performers have also fallen as quickly. Mr. D'Arby's second album, 1989's "Neither Fish Nor Fowl" flopped -- partly, many observers feel, because of an industry backlash against his brashness.

Even some employees at his own record company, Columbia, were reportedly alienated by Mr. D'Arby's fierce independence in refusing to do normal promotion chores or even allow the release of a single from the second album.

Dropping from sight, Mr. D'Arby, 32, moved to Los Angeles and began working on the new album, "Symphony or Damn," which has critics cheering again.

Mr. D'Arby, a soft-spoken and articulate man, now takes his case to the stage with a series of shows this summer with Duran Duran. (The tour will be at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia July 27.)

Sitting on the patio of his Los Angeles home, Mr. D'Arby spoke about his dramatic rise and fall and his continuing pop idealism.

Q: Why do you think your second album was rejected so dramatically?

A: I think one of the things that happened was the album was completely different from what people expected from me. I think we have gotten to a point as consumers where we have become so lulled into a certain complacency by the type of artists that record companies tend to sign nowadays that we just don't rTC really expect anyone who has a lot of success to turn around and do something completely different. A lot of people wanted "The Hardline, Part II," and there was no way I was going to do that.

Q: What was another factor?

A: The second factor was the persona that I had projected, to some degree very much naively, on the first album. I think the knives were lying in wait. Even though the second album got a better critical reception than the first one, there was a kind of gleeful attitude on the part of some people when the album didn't do as well as the first. They never saw the humor in what I was doing [in promoting the first album].

Q: What about the marketing of the second album -- the refusal to release a single and so forth?

A: I think we got a bit too clever for our boots, and I take responsibility for that. It's just in my nature. I can't help it. You can't expect a poodle to guard your house the way a Doberman pinscher does, and you can't expect a Doberman pinscher to jump in your lap the way a poodle does. Some people are just animals of a certain nature, and they are always going to have certain impulses that motivate them. For me, I just wanted to do something a different way and see if it would float. It didn't.

Q: Did you realize how big a risk you were taking by coming up with a much more challenging concept album after the straightforward accessibility of the "Hardline" album?

A: I didn't think of it in those terms. What I did think was that I had earned the right as an artist, after the success of the first album, to basically be the artist that I always wanted to be -- that a large part of the audience would follow me wherever I wanted to take them. But I was wrong.

Q: How do you feel about that second album now?

A: I am very proud of it. People have said to me, "You were really brave. . . . You could have just done 'The Hardline, Part II.' " When I hear that, I thank them for their heroic projection, but I don't really feel I had a choice. I couldn't have done "The Hardline, Part II." That's not in my nature. I didn't do anything with the intention of standing up and pounding on my chest and say, "Look at me, look how brave." I just did what was there in the mailbox for me to do at the time.

Q: Did you feel humiliated by the relative failure of the album commercially?

A: In the first place, I was never a very outgoing, public person. That was a facade. By nature, I'm reclusive. Give me instruments, books, CDs and some films and I am content, so it wasn't like I suddenly went into seclusion. But sure it hurt and sure I was disappointed.

Q: What gave you the strength to fight back? A lot of people might have self-destructed after such a dramatic turnaround in their career.

A: I'm way too vain to destroy myself like that. I believe every major strength we have can be used against us as a weakness. At the same time, things that people see as weakness can be part of our strength. Like a person might say that vanity is a weakness, but it is also a strength.

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