Everyone loves a comeback, particularly by someone long thought to be a spent force. Neil Diamond began his early career as one of the Brill Building songwriters knocking out tunes for The Monkees and others. As a solo performer in the ’70s and ’80s, courtesy of glutinous concept albums like Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, he became the jewel in the crown of MOR kitsch.
His hands-on-crotch stance on the cover of the Hot August Night live album provided hours of titter-filled amusement for schoolboys with a spare felt tip pen and mischievous minds.
Now, America has gone head over heels about this new album. Producer Rick Rubin applies the same old codger’s wobbly jelly mould he gave Johnny Cash’s final run of classic albums – intimate vocals, wisps of smoky organ and imposing keyboards. It is a perfect basis for confessional performances of a lifetime.
But Diamond isn’t Cash and the idea that he could write 12 Songs at least half of which are of the calibre of Cracklin’ Rosie or I’m A Believer – after years of ‘do put it away grandad’ clunkers like Forever In Blue Jeans – sounds too good to be true. And so it proves to be. Most unappealing is the way old Diamond, 65, has been reborn as a man of wisdom on the clammy closing quartet Man Of God, Create Me, Face Me and We, while lacking either the humour or gravitas to pull it off.
Insufferable sermonising infects most of the dirge-like tunes here, a reminder that Diamond could be the most overbearing rock fake of his generation. Even when he does find a song with a spring in its step (Save Me A Saturday Night) he?s too much in Rubin’s thrall to allow it to take flight.
The lure of aged wisdom and sincerity may be sufficient to please some, but the unadorned demo style of recording is a reminder that being ‘natural’ can be the biggest pose of all.
Diamonds are forever? Not if they are paste, dearie!