FROM THE DESK OF DAVE RADSTOCK
When it was announced that Neil Diamond was releasing a new album later this year, fans could be forgiven in believing that Neil had penned some all new material, after all, it has been six long years since his last original album, ‘Melody Road’ an album that could stand alongside any he had put out in his entire career, and so we waited in eager anticipation, wondering what Neil would treat us to.
Alas, it wasn’t the wholly new album that we have been waiting so long for, and yet we are no worse off for it, as what Neil has given us is a gift of immeasurable magic, and splendour. There have been a few albums put out from iconic artists being backed by lush orchestration, Elvis Presley with the London Philharmonic springs to mind, as does Johnny Cash, both wonderful albums, but I believe Neil Diamond has produced something beyond those albums, he has taken 14 of his most well known songs, cleared his throat and employed the London Symphony Orchestra to reimagine them, and it is a sumptuous affair
To those of us familiar with these songs, it may take a little getting used to the wholly new arrangements, but once accustomed to them, one can immerse themselves in the absolute majesty of them, and realise that Neil Diamond has lost none of the spark that motivated him to write them initially, he loves these songs, they are in all respect his children, and he has dusted them off, and fanned the flames, and breathed new life into them.
The album opens with ‘Beautiful Noise’, a most apt opening, It is lush, as the Orchestra recreates the sounds of the city, hidden just beneath the sweeping arrangement, and then Neil’s rich baritone folds around the lyrics, instantly recognizable, where it has lost none of the magic which garnered him millions of fans around the world, the songs continue in much the same vein, ‘Hello Again’ is gorgeous, and has lost none of the pleading romance of when it was first recorded.
If I am being honest, I do have issue with ‘I Am…I Said’, it has become too light,
and lost the angst which made it one of Neil’s greatest compositions. I guess some songs aren’t given to being reworked or exaggerated, however, it would have been
a massive faux pas if it wasn’t included.
‘America’ is given the ultimate treatment, a fanfare of nationalism, jingoism, and patriotism, this is Neil’s homeland, and he pays it due respect. The standout tracks are ‘Holly Holy’ given an Eastern twist, but it works surprisingly well, ‘You Don’t Bring Me Flowers’ is beautiful, an almost copy of the original solo recording Neil did on the ‘I’m Glad You’re Here With Me Tonight’ album, and ‘Love On The Rocks’ sounds like a James Bond theme, which raises the question of why Neil was never approached to record a “Bond” theme song.
‘Heartlight’ doesn’t stray too far from the original. Neil includes
‘I’ve Been This Way Before’ a song about reincarnation, where it is accompanied by a gospel choir, the album concludes with ‘Sweet Caroline’ which has an underlying march as part of the score.
Classic Diamonds is a gift from an artist that has been entrenched into popular culture for over six decades, the songs born of divine inspiration and craftsmanship, a marvellous reworking of his best loved hits, as the sleeve notes state, these are songs of their time… and for all time.
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door. - Emma Lazarus