Music Review: Diamond digs deeper into self

7/15/2008

Neil Diamond
Home Before Dark

Reviewed by Steve Morley
UMC.org

Subtlety isn’t a word you often hear in conjunction with a Neil Diamond performance — his weighty baritone imprints everything from his most theatrical ballads to lightweight hits.

Despite Diamond’s indisputable songwriting success, his unselfconscious dramatics and Vegas-styled live shows have also helped earn him the ire of rock critics and hipsters., an album that stripped away production gloss to reveal Diamond’s personal core. His follow-up, Home Before Dark, finds him again teaming with respected producer Rick Rubin. On new tracks that blend longtime Diamond trademarks with a few unexpected turns, the classic pop stylist reveals deeper vulnerabilities than perhaps ever before.

The vindication process began after 2006’s 12 Songs.

Diamond is his own worst critic on Act Like a Man. He offers mature and sage advice, though, on the surprisingly bluesy Slow It Down,” a warning against unchecked ambition that features thoughtful yet smile-inducing lines like “Even Einstein reclined while designing his theory.”

He also comes off as parental on Don’t Go There, an admonition against ill-advised romantic commitment. However, the message is one of self-protection, not necessarily principles. The song’s uncharacteristically swishy rhythm and reedy, pop-styled organ sound more mid-1960s-esque than Diamond’s own ‘60s-era output, as does Forgotten, which speaks both to relational issues and Diamond’s identity as a recording artist, thanks to especially clever lyrics that describe him in terms of a packaged product.

Pretty Amazing Grace has all the earmarks of an inspirational number, and could pass for one, though the qualifier “pretty amazing” that Diamond uses in the title is a tip-off that the song is primarily about the redemptive quality of earthly love. Whose Hands Are These features a more convincingly spiritual lyric, describing a deeply intimate and restorative relationship in deliberately mysterious terms that easily evoke a mental picture of the Creator. 

Throughout Home Before Dark themes of regret mingle among hope, lending even optimistic songs a weary and bittersweet quality, thanks in part to Diamond’s typically heavy and philosophical bent. As he takes stock of both past and present, he sheds just enough light on himself to show that the artist he is becoming has everything to do ? like it or not ? with the one he’s been along the way.