Terence's Stamp

The perenially pompous Mr. D'Arby puts his imprimatur on another ambitious pop-soul epic

With resurrections left and right, the stronger compositions begin to sound downright miraculous. "Wet Your Lips," for example, soars by superimposing sleek vocal lines over a meaty guitar riff, and the sinuous "Succumb to Me" ventures deeper into dance-funk than D'Arby has ever traveled.

While Symphony Or Damn never quite shakes its cluttered feel, it proves that plenty of work remains for ambitious pop craftsmen -- that there are still genres to bend and styles to interleave. The album's ballads ("I Still Love You," "Seasons") are uniformly excellent, and dance-floor salvos like "Do You Love Me Like You Say," which marries jittery rhythms to galvanic vocals, confirms that the future of soul lies in lavish technology that doesn't lose sight of raw emotion.

As he hits the road behind the LP, aware that he must recapture his mid-Eighties audience or take his place in the pop-soul graveyard (roll over, Rick James, and tell Cameo the news), D'Arby will no doubt be serving up a carefully organized mix of past hits and present hopes. Not all of the songs on Symphony or Damn can be taken to the stage profitably, and not all of them deserve the honor. At the very least, though, he should make room for the LP's closing ballad, "Let Her Down Easy," the account of a teenage girl gently deflowered by a young musician. Graced by some of D'Arby's most concentrated lyrics -- consider this baroque triplet: "In her strawberry eyes/The way she sees you signifies/That she's susceptible to your velvet lies" -- the song shoots for a tone midway between world-weary and wistful, and hits its target dead-on. Like the other highlights in D'Arby's career, "Let Her Down Easy" provokes an extremely specific reaction -- the urgent desire to punch the artiste in the gut and throttle him for his conceit until he cries "Uncle" (or more likely performs the "Uncle" song-cycle backed by a full orchestra), followed minutes later by the begrudging realization that after all is said and done, there's a certain charm in talent.

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