Pass the hankies. When Neil Diamond plays it down instead of adorning his songs with big band finery, it fair inspires a lump in the throat.
All credit to Rick Rubin for putting the old man in a studio with a bunch of savvy musicians (take a bow, once again, Mike Campbell, Smokey Hormel and Benmont Tench) and making sure the performances are stripped back, direct and affecting.
Neil wheels out the heavy artillery straight off with the opening tune ‘If I Don’t See You Again’, a resolutely grown up and regretful lost-love song that belongs with Dylan, Cohen and Cash at their best. It’s a number that bites its lip, faces the nasty facts and admits that sometimes there’s no happy ending, just a hollow, woebegone loss. When it ends, one expects cannon and fireworks.
By ‘Pretty Amazing Grace’, it’s evident that Home Before Dark is a lovesick burnout’s hymn to the redemptive and rejuvenating power of a woman, and the devastation wrought by her departure. Neil doesn’t do things by halves. His words and melodies are, like Roy Orbison, Cecil B De Mille scaled.
That said, there are more than a few points where he misses the mark. ‘Don’t Go There’ and ‘Slow It Down’ are delivered with listen-up-sonny bluster (Neil can be a real ham when he likes), while the underwhelming melodies of tunes like ‘Forgotten’ and ‘No Words’ lead the listener to wish Rubin had flexed a little more A&R muscle.
Yes, ‘Another Day’ is as pretty as you like, thanks in no small part to Dixie Chick Natalie Haines’s gorgeous cowgirl twang, and ‘The Power Of Two’ is as lovely in rendition as it is painful in subject matter. But, much as it irks me to admit it, nothing here can quite match the glory of ‘Save Me A Saturday Night’ or ‘Delirious Love’ from 12 Songs. Dammit.
Key track: ‘If I Don’t See You Again’
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