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Diamond Shining In The Dark
on 20 May 2008
I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Neil Diamond's music. Some of his earlier work, where it is all acoustic guitars, soaring melodies and introspective, romantic lyrics are timeless classics and yet there is the other side of Neil - the artist prone to misguided, overblown, bombastic... well, cheesiness. I don't think there is any other artist in my collection who I feel so polarised about and yet he is well worth following because he is one of a handful of truly great, classic songwriters of his era still making often incredible music.
Such an album was '12 Songs', his first collaboration with Rick Rubin. I absolutely adored that album and I'm more than happy to see a continuation of the same feel, style and producer, resulting in the brilliant 'Home Before Dark', a collection of understated, wonderful songs featuring an untouched Diamond voice which always sounds genuine, backed by mostly acoustic instrumentation and a desire to make music with integrity, feeling and heart.
While this is still an 'easy' listen, it has a very positive, feelgood flavour running throughout the album and still manages to be very engaging and, indeed, exciting listen, 'Don't Go There' being a perfect example which makes the most of the dynamics offered by the choice of instruments. In fact, Diamond's voice is perfect for this style of music because his voice sounds great while 'cruising' and yet when he wants to, he accentuates key moments in some of the songs (such as 'One More Bite Of The Apple) by giving it glimpses of the power you know his voice still has, proving that less sometimes really is more.
It is very difficult, given the quality of this album, to pick out highlights, but 'Pretty Amazing Grace' has to be up there as one of the picks, as does 'Another Day (That Time Forgot)', which features some beautiful vocals by Natalie Maines and truly sumptuous piano flourishes. 'Act Like A Man' boasts a memorable melody and could easily have, with a slightly different treatment, have been one of Neil's big hits in the 1970's. The guitar work on it is really pleasing as well.
I would have to say that this album, along with '12 Songs', has to be the highlight of Neil's career so far. While I wouldn't dispute the fact that he has written at least a dozen songs more memorable than all of those contained on this collection, they are scattered throughout his career and, as far as studio albums go, consistency has been a real problem. Even 'Stones' - which I consider to be his most consistent release before '12 Songs' - has patchy moments, whereas this album doesn't have a single chink in its armour.
Of course, credit for this excellent collection of songs has to go to Neil himself, but the influence of Rick Rubin cannot be understated. He has taken a man with a massive songwriting talent who, sometimes, hasn't been able to realise his ideas in the best, most aesthetically pleasing way and has been able to bring the very best out of him, resulting in two of the most consistent albums Neil has ever made. Lovely, moving stuff and highly recommended.