ROCK / Success? He'd put his shirt on it

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The Independent Culture
IT'S EASY to see how Terence Trent D'Arby caught the bug that stopped him taking his rightful place on Top of the Pops this week. Just four songs into a long performance at a chilly Brixton Academy, he has already taken his shirt off and does the rest of the show in torso and tights. D'Arby's hosiery would make Nijinsky blush (the dancer, not the horse). Sprayed on at the top, flared at the ankle and made out of very expensive kitchen roll, his legwear is the object of much general interest. There are a lot of women here pretending to be models. Disgruntled boyfriends strive to be gracious.

There is no doubt that Terence is one of our sexier performers. What is currently uncertain - to the crowd if not to him - is just what manner of pop star he is. His intermittently excellent third album, Symphony or Damn (Columbia), has brought about a partial reconstruction of the fan base he destroyed with the heroically unlistenable Neither Fish Nor Flesh. Still, when people go to see someone who dances as extravagantly as D'Arby does, they expect to be sitting down - if only because their own shufflings are going to look pretty tame by comparison.

The first couple of numbers do nothing to reassure the crowd. They are cumbersome sludge-rockers in the Lenny Kravitz mould, with D'Arby static behind a V-shaped guitar. His backing players make the average chat-show house band sound subtle - the drumming has a leaden, disembodied feel, and the guitarist is in the midst of a great love affair with his wah-wah pedal - but gradually Terence wears down audience misgivings. An early dip into 'Wishing Well' provides the ideal showcase for the random splits and furious shimmies that made his name, and his practised soul man's squawk is as confident as ever.

By 'Dance Little Sister', he's doing that flipping the mike-stand with his foot thing he's always been so good at, but it's D'Arby's refusal to conform to people's expectations that makes him so likeable. Whether perched incongruously on a stool for the absurd Bob Dylan pastiche 'Turning the Pages' - 'And the Queen does not invite you over for tea at her gaff in Scotland' - or rearranging his biggest hit, 'Sign Your Name', almost out of recognition for an encore, this man

is always going to follow his wayward muse before the dictates of the Columbia Records marketing department.

The omens were not good for Elton John's Duets (Rocket, CD/LP/tape, out tomorrow). First Frank Sinatra gave the lie to celebrity pal-ins by recording his down the phone. Then came sightings of Elton and Kiki Dee engaged in a Christmas Number One campaign so shameless as to make Father Abraham look ethical. But right from the opening song - a tight and feisty take on Womack & Womack's 'Teardrops' in tandem with woman of the moment k d lang - this turns out to be a surprisingly spirited affair.

There's a commendably varied guest list, from fossilised Eagle Don Henley to sparky drag diva RuPaul. And often Elton's most unexpected unions - the one with PM Dawn, for example - turn out to be the most enduring. 'A Woman's Needs' featuring (who else?) Tammy Wynette is a major camp landmark. But the album's highlight is a delightful version of Ray Charles's 'Born to Lose', co- starring the one and only Leonard Cohen. There is a big smile in the old croaker's voice as he concludes, basso profundo 'and now Elton, I'm losing you'.