Where have you gone, Terence Trent d'Arby? It's a question that must have entered the minds of even casual Terence Trent d'Arby fans during his six-plus-year absence from the spotlight following TTD's Vibrator. In fact, it was an extraordinarily eventful period for the artist, during which, among other things, he fought for and finally won his freedom from Sony, set up shop in Italy, experienced a profound personal and spiritual rebirth, altered his name accordingly, signed a deal with producer Glen Ballard's small Java imprint, spent much of 1998 recording three albums' worth of songs, had a creative falling out and parted ways with Ballard, started his own record label, spent several years putting the finishing touches on and whittling down a set of songs for a comeback tentatively titled The Solar Return of TTD, then finally re-emerged with the 19-track Terence Trent d'Arby's Wildcard! Those with the patience to stick by d'Arby were rewarded with this incomparably rich masterpiece, arguably his finest recording yet, and inarguably as bold, ambitious, and uncategorizable a return as anyone could have hoped for or imagined. Let's call it Introducing the Hardline According to Sananda Maitreya. A record this adventurous rarely makes it through the red tape, so it is fitting that Wildcard! found its own way to the public. Fitting also that it introduces itself by way of the ebullient brass blowout "O Divina," quaint clawhammer banjo giving way to swooping, Chicago-esque horn charts and a gutsy, gymnastic tenor as sweet as Sam Cooke's was smooth. The song may be something of a throwback, but the rest of the album is decidedly forward-looking, whether reinventing R&B for the 21st century (the gauzy "Girl," mellow "Some Birds Blue," and the roboto-funk of "SRR-636*" and "My Dark Places," the latter like a futuristic Earth, Wind & Fire fronted by Al Green), staying a few loops ahead of the electronica curve (the Dallas Austin-produced "Drivin' Me Crazy" and "Ev'rythang," which can only be labeled -- if it must -- trip-hop), or extending the sensual jazz fusion of Vibrator's "Undeniably" on "Shalom." That still leaves copious room for honeyed pop like "Sweetness" (with a guest spot by Wendy Melvoin) and "Sayin' About You" and the creamy rock of "And They Will Never Know" and "Goodbye Diane." All that and the newly metamorphosed Maitreya gives a remarkably sublime vocal performance throughout. Wildcard! is soul music with a capital S and in the broadest, most stirring, and visionary sense. AMG.