Car Boot Vinyl Diaries

Car Boot Vinyl Diaries

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Neither Fish Nor Flesh

On one hot Sunday in the middle of August last year the first car boot sale I arrived at was heaving from beginning to end with vinyl and shellac to dig through.  I bought so many 45s, 78s, 12"s and LPs that I ran out of time, pennies and inclination to go on to the next port of call, and so returned home with a record bag bursting with 26 discs in all, plus a multi CD set in a faux LP sleeve.

Phew. 78s weigh a lot.

Amongst this heavy haul was Terence Trent D'Arby's 1989 album Neither Fish Nor Flesh, bought in excellent condition with the original booklet intact for £2.

Terence Trent D'Arby - Neither Fish Nor Flesh (1989)
Inside booklet, with rice paper pages.
Definitely looks like fish to me, Terence.

From rear of booklet.

Subtitled "A Soundtrack of Love, Faith, Hope and Destruction", this 2nd album from the Manhattan-born singer, songwriter and musician (now releasing music under the name Sananda Maitreya) followed 1987's multi-platinum "Introducing The Hardline According To...".  Unlike Hardline, NFNF tanked, peaking at no.12 on the UK album chart before dropping out entirely after just five weeks.  Lead single This Side of Love fared even worse, scraping into the Top 100 at just no.83.

It seems that a combination of ego and ambition scuppered the project, with D'Arby making wild proclamations both about himself and his latest work, with the latter sounding very different from the chart-friendly pop smashes that characterised his debut. Even today on his website Sananda makes outlandish claims, such as that NFNF was a "formative influence on both what subsequently became marketed as 'Hip Hop', as well as what was sold as 'Grunge'".

Maybe he truly believes this, but it's a huge shame that such posturing probably put a lot of fans off from buying what turns out to be a phenomenally good record; one that's perhaps borne of overindulgence and ego-led ambition, but succeeds in melding funk and R&B to catchy, psychedelic pop.  There's a huge cast of musicians, with D'Arby himself on a variety of instruments including Fender Rhodes, sitar, timpani, "scratching" and er, kazoo.  He's also credited with things like "Aural Manipulations" and "Sound Manifestations", not to mention the highly intriguing and un-Googlable "Other Phaqueries".  Hmm.

It starts quietly, the spoken-word Declaration: Neither Fish Nor Flesh giving way to the sparse but melodic I Have Faith In These Desolate Times, whose harp accompaniment by "The Lovely Helen Davies" (sleeve notes) in the first half is joined by Terence on bongos in the second, before an abrupt end.  After the eerie and equally sparse It Feels So Good To Love Someone Like You it's not until the middle of Side 1 that things really get going, with the sexy pop-soul of To Know Someone Deeply Is To Know Someone Softly when That Voice is finally unleashed; those sweet, silken tones hitting all the right buttons and delivering the most romantic and least pretentious lyrics on an album that has its fair share of cringeworthy couplets.

From here the tempo increases and the song titles become snappier, highlights being AIDS story Billy Don't Fall, its punchy percussion and whistling keyboard riff reminiscent of hit Wishing Well; the staccato funk of You Will Pay Tomorrow; and minor soul belter I'll Be Alright, with lyrical nods to Prince and the Beach Boys.

Towards the end of the album song titles stretch out again with a corresponding lowering of pace, firstly with powerful deep soul ballad I Don't Want To Bring Your Gods Down. Stax-y horns and D'Arby's full-throated wail contrast with an intermittent minor-key violin part; an unsettling but typical and effective TTD touch.  Closer ...And I Need To Be With Someone Tonight is a solo a cappella with layers of TTD harmony, engaging for the way in which he's clearly enjoying playing around with his voice, but spoiled somewhat by lyrics like the clunky, "Though apartheid's a greater issue, I long to hear "I miss you" ". Erk!

It's a damn shame that this album didn't sell well, and although D'Arby's posturing may have deterred potential buyers, the bigger factor may have been a lack of marketing push behind it due to the eccentric and ambitious nature of both the artist and his creation.  I only say this because after loving the debut, Neither Fish Nor Flesh seemed to entirely pass me by at the time, even though I eagerly bought the follow-up Symphony Or Damn. Perhaps if NFNF had contained a sure-fire 'hit' to promote as a single it would have done better.  Whatever the reasons, if you've not heard it I urge you to give it a whirl, in case like me it means you've been missing out on a massively enjoyable record all these years.

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