Throughout the last years of school, I nursed a disgraceful little secret. When asked about my tastes in music, I’d reply, “The Doors, Dylan, some Weather Report and, of course, the Beatles”. While that wasn’t intended to deceive, the one artiste I kept concealed was Neil Diamond.
Cracklin’ Rosie? Sweet Caroline? Shilo? Yes, that Neil Diamond, who emerged from the legendary Brill Building and came to be known, without the slightest trace of irony, as “the Jewish Elvis”. (Later, they said he was “the William Shatner of soft rock”. Ouch.)
Tragically, the man’s music became pompous and bloated with the years, and I simply stopped listening; Beautiful Noise and The Jazz Singer were among the last two albums I had affection for. The admiration went underground, emerging only once in a while, such as when I’d inform those listening to Urge Overkill’s ‘Girl You’ll Be a Woman Soon’ or UB40’s ‘Red Red Wine’ that the songs were, in fact, Neil Diamond covers.
Which is why it was such a pleasure to read about—and then hear – his latest release, simply called 12 Songs. Produced by the career-resurrecting Rick Rubin, this is stark, autumnal and from-the-heart Diamond, wrung of excess and posturing. Listening to tracks such as ‘Save Me A Saturday Night’, ‘I’m On To You’ and ‘What’s It Going To Be’ brought back some of the old magic—even though his voice is time-ravaged, ‘Man of God’ is sanctimonious and ‘Hell Yeah’ is too obvious an attempt to create another ‘My Way’. Occasionally mawkish? Yeah. Worth listening to? Hell, yeah.