Well, actually 14 songs when you count the two “bonus tracks” here… but anyway… Neil Diamond. I have never been among his legions of devoted worshippers, but I’ve always had a thing for the tune “Sweet Caroline” (though I prefer Sinatra’s bizarre version), and have a perverse fascination with that ridiculous power-anthem “America.” So here we have Neil’s much written-about/hyped/displayed in large quantities at major retailers collaboration with producer Rick Rubin, the guy behind the amazing final albums of Johnny Cash. The trademark stripped-down qualities are here — mostly acoustic guitars, some piano and organ, occasional quiet strings.
Thing is, Neil Diamond is not Johnny Cash. This doesn’t have the weight, wisdom, humanity and sincerity of the somehow instantly classic “American Recordings.” The whole thing is definitely listenable enough, but every so often, Neil gets into his overwrought straining dramatic sing-shouty voice, and you can just hear the big orchestra swelling behind him — but instead you hear strumming guitars and tinkling piano — and the songs themselves have that certain pompous over-solemn character that I guess Diamond has become the undisputed master of (there’s nothing here you’re going to get stuck in your head for weeks like “Sweet Caroline.”)
But at the end of the day, you have to admire the plodding determination of this stuff… and if you’re in the right kind of hungover on a weekday morning and/or driving through the Nebraska prairie sort of mood, it will all sound pretty damn good. So, if you have any inclination to buy this, rational or not, go ahead: you won’t be disappointed. (And if you want to hear it you probably will be buying it — apparently the good folks at Sony have put every kind of copy-protection imaginable on here to prevent anything other than maybe dubbing a cassette copy… although that might just be the perfect way to listen to this after all…)
[from serenade in green]