Eight years after his spotty last album, Vibrator, sank without a trace, Terence Trent D'Arby is back in full bloom. His 19-track Wildcard! is pretentious, ambitious, and overlong -- as are his other albums -- yet it's still largely engaging.
The link between Stevie Wonder and Prince, the extravagantly talented D'Arby (who morphed into Sananda Maitreya, much as Prince became the Artist and the Symbol) is a true soul singer. His voice is velvet and sandpaper, and his phrasing evokes everyone from Earth Wind & Fire's Philip Bailey to his root influence, Sam Cooke. At least half a dozen cuts stand out, such as the sultry single "Designated Fool" and the sexy "Suga Free." His lyrics span the grit of "The Inner Scream" to bathos and metaphorical stew of "Shalom" ("The well of loneliness is wet with tears" isn't exactly tight). Still, the album sounds good, and its prolixity is as much a gift as a drawback. Like Prince, D'Arby is a control freak who's hard to control; that, along with a long contractual dispute with Columbia, might explain his long absence from the scene. Wildcard! could have been edited better. Nevertheless, it proves that D'Arby, one of the best singers of the '80s, has gotten his groove back.