The new millennium came in, and with it came a whole change in music trends, Rap music was the choice for many younger music fans, R&B continued its rise as another popular genre, and it appeared that there was no room for the older established artists, certainly not on the charts. Neil Diamond had not enjoyed a hit record for over twenty years, where the trio of hits from the 'Jazz Singer' were his most successful single releases to date, however, Neil Diamond was secure enough in his standing in the industry not to be overly concerned with chart success these days, but to concentrate on delivering high quality music for his loyal fan-base.
The Noughties saw resurgence in Neil Diamond’s popularity, both in album sales and garnering a whole new raft of younger fans, the reason for such new found adoration..... Rick Rubin, music producer extraordinaire, a man who had quite literally given Diamond the kick he needed to resurrect a career that was in danger of imploding, certainly where Neil’s song-writing was concerned, and how Neil delivered. It is no overstatement to suggest that Neil Diamond has produced three of the finest albums of his hugely successful career in the noughties, both vocally, and song-writing. These albums hark back to those heady times of the late sixties and early seventies when Neil Diamond was striving to become the star he had dreamed of becoming. As albums go, the three albums, '12 Songs', 'Home Before Dark', and
'Melody Road', are as good as anything any other artist has put out in the last fifteen to twenty years, and served to silence the doubters and critics in proving, that when he is in the mood, there a few that can touch Neil Diamond. - Dave Radstock
And around it comes again with 'I’m On To You’ a wonderfully jazzy number, and a perfect kiss-off song, ‘What’s it Gonna Be’ is a crafty seduction song, whilst ‘Men Are So Easy’ is an effective plea for understanding.
Rick Rubin’s masterful approach was to let Neil Diamond do what
Neil Diamond does best, that is, to strap on a loose guitar, and let those rich vocals ride over it, and what a ride it is. Brian Wilson’s guest spot on ‘Delirious Love’ is so melodic and harmony rich,
it could have sails attached to it. ‘Save Me A Saturday Night’ is a simple overture of love. ‘Create Me’ is inspired, and tells of someone who has lost their way, the simplest track on the album is ‘We’ a lovely catchy song, telling us what love is all about.
The album contains songs composed and performed from the heart, with an exquisite maturity of voice, that is unmistakably Neil Diamond, but a Diamond that has seen life - all the blood, sweat, and tears of it.
There are few songwriters who can match Neil Diamond when he is in the mood, and thankfully, Rick Rubin coaxed him, and coerced him into creating an album of great beauty, and writing some of the finest songs of his illustrious career.
12 SONGS - 2005
In the early days of his career, Neil Diamond wrote certifiable pop/rock classics, such as ‘Cherry Cherry’, ‘Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon’, ‘I’m A Believer’, and ‘Solitary Man’, unfortunately, as his success grew in the seventies, so did the production values on his records, and the quality of the writing, (still there for those who cared to see and hear) became lost in the syrup in which they were immersed by unsympathetic producers.
Thankfully, Neil joined up with producer extraordinaire, Rick Rubin, a man who wholly understands the craft, the album and songs have for the most part, minimal production interference, which casts Diamond’s voice front and centre, and it is masterful.
Once in a very rare Blue Moon will we encounter an album that is pretty near perfect; every track is a winner. The first track ‘Oh Mary’ is as beautiful a ballad as one could hear, with Diamond’s inimitable baritone coating it in velvet. ‘Evermore’ is powerful and emotionally draining, and ‘Man Of God’ is inspirational. ‘Hell Yeah is Diamond’s acceptance of his life well-lived, a life affirming anthem bursting with bravado. ‘Face Me’ is soul destroyingly painful.
It is difficult to choose a stand out track, although ‘Captain Of A Shipwreck’ is a particular favourite, a declaration of love that skims the poetic with its promise –
If you’re captain of a shipwreck
I’ll be first mate to your shame
HOME BEFORE DARK - 2008
The choice for the first album in this series had to be ‘Home Before Dark’. Remarkably,
it was the first US #1 album of Neil Diamond’s (then) forty year career. Yes, the album is almost ten years old, released in 2008, it followed the same formula as Diamond’s previous album of original material, the highly acclaimed ‘12 Songs’ relatively understated arrangements, and guided by Rick Rubin’s subtle production.
Neil Diamond was sixty-seven years old, and the oldest recipient of a number one album at that time, but he was no Johnny Cash, turning his unique voice to some well chosen contemporary material, instead, ‘Home Before Dark’ was a collection of new “Diamond” songs, and although they may not have matched the massive hits of his back catalogue, the quality of them stood on their own merits.
A number of the songs were designed to fill large venues alongside the show-stoppers in Diamond’s still energetic live shows, as with '12 Songs' the album puts Diamond’s voice front and centre, singing songs beautifully written and delivered with honesty and integrity, and once again gave us another glimpse of the enormous song-writing talents of Neil Diamond.
These songs were written from the heart, lyrically deeper than Diamond had gone before. Melodically crafted to perfection, sometimes soothing, sometimes heart wrenching, sometimes joyful, sometimes painful, but always striking powerful emotional tones. The opening track, ‘If I Don’t See You Again’ runs a full seven minutes, and sets the tone, it is elegant, and beautiful, and soul searing in its final crescendo, where the listener is left emotionally drained by its power.
‘Pretty Amazing Grace’ is a hymn to the power of love, and hooks the listener from the start, and never lets go thereafter, ‘Don’t Go There’ is a wonderfully sly song directed at the pitfalls of unprotected sex and drug misuse, all in all there are no fillers on this album, where all the tracks are performed masterfully by Diamond.
If you are a fan of Neil Diamond the songwriter, this collection will inspire and move you in equal measure, if you have been turned off his music by the popular perception that his material is over the top and schmaltzy, then you must give this album a listen, you may be surprised by what you hear.
I would like to include two songs from this album, as I was having difficulty with selecting just one, the selections are the opening track, ‘If I Don’t See You Again’ along with possibly the best received song on the album, ‘Pretty Amazing Grace’.
These two selections showcase the immense ability Neil Diamond still possesses as a songwriter and storyteller in his music, which harks back to that prolific era between 1968-1973.
The second track on the album is one of my favourites, ‘First Time’ is a fabulous story telling how it was for Neil when he first stepped out as a performer, recalling the fear, but equally the excitement and anticipation.
First time, how do you feel?
Little bit strange, it’s a little unreal
That first time
You’re far from home
Finally out there on your own
And it’s your time, for making it happen,
It’s your time, and it’s gonna happen your way
The song continues in that upbeat hopeful way, where, as you listen, you believe that Neil is indeed going to make it big, Neil likens that first time to a fairground ride, a mix of fear and excitement, where once experienced you want to go again and again.
The third track ‘Seongah and Jimmy’ is very “Orbisonesque” in its arrangement. I could imagine the great Roy Orbison recording this song. It has a magic about it, which is equally like a great movie production. The story of the song is based on Neil’s brother-in-law, Jimmy, and his Korean girlfriend Seongah, where they were to be married. Neil states that the story is of the power of love, and how it transcends such mundane things as language, customs, and country of origin.
Neil Diamond played the song at the couple’s wedding dinner, where he explained he had never had the experience of writing a song for someone and watched them experience it themselves. “It was a wonderful feeling.”
MELODY ROAD - 2014
This album, released in 2014, was the first album of all new and original material since ‘Home Before Dark’ in 2008 and proved once again that Neil Diamond had lost none of his song-writing ability, the songs are heavenly, where much of it is a tribute to his new found happiness.
The opening track is the title track of the album, 'Melody Road’ and is a commentary of what Neil gets from writing songs, and how he is enthused by words and rhyme, and music.
Find me some words that feel just right
The music’s gonna come
From Melody Road
It is a simple statement of fact from Neil of how he writes his songs.
The lyric flows, where you feel the angst and pain as Neil recalls the hurt from a previous relationship, and speaks of the seething resentment of what his ex put him through, the bitter jealousy and spite. The second half of the song is his salvation, where he likens himself being marooned in a vast lonely sea -
You found me drifting in a small boat
In the middle of an ocean
You were there on my horizon
And I didn’t have a notion
Unprepared to comprehend it
Felt alone and unattended
Said my prayers, and reached my hand out
And you appeared to me that day
The score is majestic, and thuds right through you, and is powerful and emotional, where the ending is a plea to his rescuer to change the course of his life for the better.
The next track, ‘Something Blue’ tells of how Neil has cast away those things which used to bring him down, and is a tribute to his new wife at the time Katie and how she has been a positive influence in his life, and brought him much happiness.
The next song ‘Nothing But A Heartache’ is a grandiose song, a tale of heartache and second chances, one of those Neil Diamond gems that he has a knack of coming up with time and again -
It wasn’t nothing but a heartache
In the middle of a bad dream
Like I took on the whole world
And I never had a chance girl
Was a one way conversation
I never got the invitation
The sharpness of her words deceiving
And I couldn’t stop the bleeding...
The album continues with ‘In Better Days’ and then follows the gorgeous ‘Ooo Do I Wanna Be Yours’, an absolutely beautiful song, where the story of the song is told as though in a dream, and speaks of not losing the special love he had found, and how he wants to be part of a special union.
‘Alone At The Ball’ follows, and can be said it’s a commentary of how Neil, despite his worldwide fame has an insular daily routine, which contradicts his public persona. The catchy ‘Sunny Disposition’ follows, along with ‘Marry Me Now’ which can only be interpreted as a direct entreaty to Katie, who is now his wife.
The final song on the album, that is prior to a reprise of ‘Melody Road’ is the hauntingly beautiful ‘The Art Of Love’, once again Neil Diamond has captured the very essence of what love is all about, and showed he still has the ability to grab us with a song of love, and his understanding of the nuances of love, his vocals on the song are warm, and rich, and give it just the right expression. The video that accompanied the song is equally beautiful, and frames the song wonderfully.
‘The Art Of Love’ is very reminiscent of ‘Play Me’ with its stark beauty, and subtlety, and can be rightfully regarded as a new Neil Diamond classic love song.
‘Melody Road’ is an album based around a theme that Neil Diamond speaks so well of... Love, but it is so much more than that, it is a hark back to Neil’s best song-writing days, songs that move you, and touch you in equal measure, free of any bombast and overblown arrangements. Neil Diamond has followed hot on the heels of his previous two original album smashes, ‘12 Songs’ and ‘Home Before Dark’ and may owe a huge debt to Rick Rubin for having learned something with regard the production values in his work.
‘Melody Road’ is a musical journey, told by a man through wisdom and experience, a fabulous album from a man who has provided us with a catalogue of timeless music, this album adds to that list, the songs are beautifully crafted and delivered in the style we have come to know and love from Neil Diamond, and once you immerse yourself, you understand why Neil Diamond is regarded as the greatest living songwriter around.
Neil Diamond proved he still possesses that innate ability to write heartfelt music, as his last three original albums have all hit the mark
Thanks and appreciation to Dave Radstock for his invaluable and infromative contributions