Editor’s Note: Our recurring “Portrait of the Artist” playlist series pays homage to the artists responsible for the most inspired and indispensable discographies of all time. We hope you enjoy these tributes, and stay tuned for many more to come.
When people think of the defining artists of the ‘80s and ‘90s they usually land on the sure-fire list of Jackson (both Michael and Janet), Prince, Madonna, Whitney, and George. One artist that often gets overlooked—but surely held his own—is Sananda Maitreya, formerly known as Terence Trent D’Arby.
Bursting onto the scene with the soulful “If You Let Me Stay” in 1987, D’Arby both riled and riveted music critics with his mix of brash, walking headline, quote grabbing persona and his boundless creative talents, smooth soulful voice and multi-instrumentalist artistry. Proclaiming his debut release The Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arby as “the greatest album since Sgt. Pepper’s” was just one of the ways he would be assured of press coverage and attention.
Thankfully, he had the talent to back up the boasts and the album rose to the top of the charts worldwide, producing a four-hit collective including “If You Let Me Stay,” “Wishing Well,” “Sign Your Name” and “Dance Little Sister.” Terence Trent D’Arby (or TTD as he would later be known) made the album bristle with ambition and pushed a musical landscape blipping with overly electronic sounding production back towards instrumentation played with heart, humanity and hubris.
For all the success that Introducing would bring, it also set expectations for the follow up in the same way it did for Prince with Purple Rain and Jackson with Thriller. But rather than succumbing to repetition, he challenged and channeled himself to create a sonic landscape that pushed his artistic vocabulary and expanded his sonic horizons. The result was 1989’s sprawling Neither Fish Nor Flesh which was quickly skewered by music critics who decried the lack of Introducing cloned songs and failed to be supported by his label.
For us fans however, Neither Fish was indeed TTD’s Sgt. Pepper’s; a dream of sound delivered with a sense of wonder, exploration and surety. Here was an artist both following and leading his muse into new territory while bringing along a few of the comforts of home. Whilst the whole album is worth exploring, standouts include the romantic “To Know Someone Deeply Is To Know Someone Softly,” the dark and raucous “This Side of Love,” the Motown tinged “Attracted to You,” the hypnotic “Roly Poly” and the funk-fueled sermon of “You Will Pay Tomorrow.” Despite its less than stellar critical and commercial success Neither Fish Nor Flesh remains the most timeless album of the TTD cannon and a personal fave album of this writer.
Out of the ashes, a new sound and new location was sought with Terence Trent D’Arby relocating from the UK to Los Angeles to record what would be his final albums under the TTD credit, the “commercial comeback” rock-funk of Symphony or Damn (of which “She Kissed Me,” “Do You Love Me Like You Say?,” “I Still Love You,” “Turn The Page,” “Delicate” and “Let Her Down Easy” are pulled) and the kaleidoscopic Vibrator, from which “Vibrator,” “Read My Lips (I Dig Your Scene),” “We Don’t Have That Much Time Together” and “Supermodel Sandwich” are among the must-hears.
Following an extended contractual battle which saw TTD shuffled off into the musical wilderness, he returned transformed both spiritually and musically with the 2001 Wildcard album that, with its 2003 re-release, saw him formally transition from TTD to Sananda Maitreya. Now freed of both his commercial and artistic shackles and obligations, Maitreya pursued a release schedule that embraced being a free agent with a steady release of expansive new music distributed through his own website and digital retailers.
Kicking off with Angels & Vampires Parts I & II in 2005 and 2006 respectively, Maitreya heralded in a new era with songs that looked to forge a new identity and embrace a new life’s sound. Stripped back and more organic than the final TTD releases, A&V sees an artist setting sail for new shores with an eye focused more toward his artistic growth than the pop charts. 2009’s Nigor Mortis saw the electricity being turned back on and a more live rock feel fed into the music. This was followed up by 2011’s The Sphinx (another omission from the Spotify ledgers) and then a move into his current era of Post-Millennium Rock with the arrival of the glorious sonic traveller album, Return to Zooathalon in 2013.
This Post-Millennium Rock period is decreed as an era that allows the artist to go where the music takes him, free from concerns of influence, confluence and genre. It finds Maitreya simply enjoying music. Enjoying the craft of songwriting, the passion of performance and the freedom of playing. With 2015’s The Rise of The Zugebrian Time Lords and the impending release of Prometheus & Pandora, Maitreya shows no signs of letting up his musical journey and evolution. And thank the musical Gods for that. For in an era when true artists are either being taken from us, or are failing to materialize, Sananda Maitreya continues to explore and excite.
And to celebrate his ongoing evolution here are 45 tracks evenly split between his Terence Trent D’Arby and Sananda Maitreya incarnations, with the opening “Welcome To My Monasteryo” serving as an intro of sorts. I encourage you to take the musical journey it offers and discover more about an artist who, in this writer’s opinion, is perhaps one of the most underrated artists of our time. An artist who rightfully deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as other musical masters such as Jackson and Prince, and continues to elevate and inspire.