Thursday, November 10, 2005

Old Times Never Seemed So New

When thinking of Neil Diamond's latest album, I can't help but think of a 1982 #27 single called "On The Way To The Sky." Good lyrics and over-the-top Production. I bet even Diamond's fans have forgotten about it. But the contrast of the what-might-have-been on that single plays itself out on Neil Diamond's Rick Rubin Produced CD.
Yes, it's pretty strange to see the rave's for Neil Diamond's 12 Songs. Rolling Stone and USA Today, although the New York Times wasn't as rapturous, it did give it a good notice. I'm not going to rock the boat. It's Diamond's strongest work in years. But it isn't any different than what he's been doing his whole career. Okay, there's nothing as cheesy as "Heartlight" or "Song Sung Blue" or "Headed for the Future", but tracks like "Oh Mary" and "Captain of A Shipwreck" wouldn't sound out of place on his early 70's albums when Diamond got tired of easy Pop hits and wanted to ride the new Singer-Songwriter wave. Hits like "Play Me" and "Stones"would fit on 12 Songs easily. And don't overlook the pairing of Robbie Robertson producing 1976's Beautiful Noise, which was also supposed to be a return of Neil the songwriter (the album holds up). The difference is that Rick Rubin has (for the most part) honed in Diamond's tendency for overwrought symphonic flourishes. As David Browne pointed out in his A rating rave in Entertainment Weekly, there's still a struggle here between Diamond and Rubin. And happily Rubin has won. Like Nigel Goodrich's Paul McCartney CD, this is carefully Produced. Unlike Rubin's Johnny Cash recordings there's no raggedness in Diamond's voice or Rubin's Production. Fans of the "Sweet Caroline" Diamond might find some of this ponderous. I doubt many of these will pepper one of his concerts. But by focusing on what he really does best, write good songs, Neil Diamond has indeed stepped into a time machine that has more to do with his Brill Building start than his Vegas finish.
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