“12 Songs” is Diamond’s first album in four years
Thursday, December 15, 2005
In “What About Bob,” Bill Murray’s character, Bob Wiley, proclaims: “There are two types of people in this world: Those who like Neil Diamond, and those who don’t. My ex-wife loves him.”
Neil Diamond’s latest album, “12 Songs,” is an album that might possibly satisfy those that claim to like, dislike and love the Jewish Elvis.
Producer Rick Rubin is responsible for the mass appeal of Diamond’s latest effort. Rubin, of course, produced Johnny Cash’s last five studio albums, which introduced the Man in Black to a whole new generation of fans. “12 Songs” should do that for Diamond, though to a lesser degree.
Rubin, who considers Diamond one of the country’s best songwriters, has stripped the songs down to their core, allowing them to stand on their own. The result is an album that’s more raw and bluesy than anything else Diamond has recorded. Here, the Barbara Streisand duets seem far off in the distance. This is not your sequin-suited Neil.
Make no mistake, the schmaltz of the old Neil is still there – but it is schmaltz with some restraint. On most songs, Diamond’s croon is accompanied only by guitar, piano, organ and quiet strings (Mike Campbell of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and legendary organist Billy Preston play on most of the tracks). Most of the time, the sparse arrangements keep the songs from going overboard when the opportunity presents itself.
The album’s opener, “Oh Mary,” is a plaintive plea to a lover to come around before the singer’s time runs out. It is the album’s best track. One can even imagine Cash singing this on one of his Rubin-produced albums (He did, in fact, sing Diamond’s “Solitary Man” on his third album with Rubin). “Hell Yeah” is a cry of defiance from a “lucky ole dreamer” who “loved it all” and promises to keep fighting until his life ends. “Captain of A Shipwreck” is cheesy even by Diamond’s old standards, with the singer not only promising to be a captain but the “first mate” to his lover’s “shame.” Embarrasing.
“Delirious Love,” one of the album’s more upbeat tracks, will no doubt be a hit in concert, especially for the legions of sexagenarians that still consider Diamond a sex symbol. The piano intro recalls the opening to “Sweet Caroline,” and the chorus goes: “Neither one of us stoppin’ to figure out/ What the roll and the rockin’ was all about/ All we knew was that we couldn’t get enough/ You and me in the heat of Delirious Love/ I can feel it.”
They’ll feel it, too, Neil.