12 SONGS – Neil Diamond
If Elvis Presley were still alive, there’s a good chance that he’d be making a comeback record with Rick Rubin. A producer with a keen ability to guide veteran artists back to their vital roots, Rubin helped Johnny Cash resurrect his career in the ’90s with a series of stripped down acoustic albums. Now Rubin is poised to do the same for Neil Diamond.
Actually, Diamond’s career arc isn’t so different than Presley’s. Rebellious early years. Rousing acoustic hits. Sexy, hip-shaking stage presence that leads to the kind of superstardom where image becomes bigger than life and eventually overshadows taste in material. Just as Elvis veered from “Heartbreak Hotel” to “Clambake,” Diamond somehow went from “Solitary Man” to “Heartlight.”
Ironically, the way Rubin helps Diamond recapture former glory is by toning down his Neil Diamond-ness–the penchant for overemotive choruses and throwing shapes against Wagnerian arrangements. The first thing you hear on 12 Songs is a quiet acoustic guitar, and Diamond’s hushed baritone, asking, “Oh Mary, can you hear my song, does it make a mournful sound?”
The plaintive guitar-voice combination remains at the forefront throughout, with beautifully arranged touches from veteran session cats such as Billy Preston, Mike Campbell and Larry Knechtel. After a few slow ballads, the record starts to pick up steam. “Save Me A Saturday Night” is a sweet, Brill Building-era ode and “I’m On To You” is a minor-key shuffle with those trademark syncopated breaks, a la “Cracklin’ Rosie.”
But it’s “Delirious Love” that catches everything that’s great about Neil Diamond, in three minutes. A fast-moving tune about the rocket ride of new love, it’s catchy, soulful and compact. When, in the break, Diamond yells, “I can feel it!” it’s like an epiphany. Also notable is the jaunty closing track “We,” which turns on the wonderful couplet “It’s not about you and it’s not about me / Love is all about we,” and sounds as if it could’ve been written anytime over the last hundred years.
“I’m a man of song,” Diamond sings at one point on the new CD. Yes, he is. He just needed a little reminding.
• Bill DeMain