On his steady climb from small bars to sold-out arenas, Neil
Diamond had an uncommonly broad appeal. His base was undoubtedly
the quietly yearning housewife, who swooned at his baritone sincerity.
But he was also able to snag the fickle frat party crowd along
the way, who drunkenly bellowed the "oh-oh-oh" of "Sweet
Caroline", each enjoying the irony of singing the song that
their mothers loved best. These are the riches of a long musical
career - a fan base that spans generations, proving that you have
the mettle to endure a fall from fashion only to emerge again
stronger than before. Durability affords a certain amount of creative
freedom to the artist; including the freedom to get back to where
Diamond's latest album, 12 Songs, is his attempt at doing
just that. It's confessional, stripped of most cosmetic over-production,
and has an organic feel that was certainly not a trademark of
many of his previous records. 12 Songs has that barroom
feel. Acoustic guitar, a little piano, and some instruments that
are not staples of the Diamond repertoire are prevalent on this
album. It has all the intimacy of a Wednesday night bar gig, with
none of the secondhand smoke.
Diamond still writes lyrics that are as hairy-chested dramatic
as ever they were, and likely as emotive. Songs like "Evermore"
and "Oh Mary" will remind you of the smoky-eyed Diamond
of erstwhile cheesy album covers - but as you smile at the camp,
you also appreciate the candor. As he has always done, this guy
is crooning from the heart and he writes a catchy song. Brian
Wilson makes a cameo on "Delirious Love", giving
a patented Beach Boys tinge to the already unique Diamond
sound. But the song that strikes the hardest chord is "Hell
Yeah", a Sinatra-like anthem of a life well lived.
Diamond sings with characteristic gusto, prematurely self-eulogizing:
"He found the life that he was after / Filled it up with
love and laughter /Finally gotta it right and made it fit/ Hell
Yeah He Did". It's the kind of song you hope you can write
when you are his age.
In listening to this disc, you won't be shocked that it's Neil
Diamond. This is not a reinvention; it's a re-emergence - it's
the Neil that always was, out of the bright lights and after the
hot August nights. It's the comfortable blue jeans he would rather
have been in all along. In some of the songs there are echoes
of Diamond-gone-by, which is a good thing. Because if Neil can't
be Neil then what's a frat guy/housewife to do?
1. Oh Mary
2. Hell Yeah
3. Captain Of A Shipwreck
5. Save Me A Saturday Night
6. Delirious Love
7. I'm On To You
8. What's It Gonna Be
9. Man Of God
10. Create Me
11. Face Me
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