Back To Work
If imitation is
the highest form of flattery, Neil Diamond has reached the Mount Rushmore of
hailed artists. Aside from Will Ferrells absurdly hilarious parodies and
the countless string of Diamond tribute bands, everyone has heard a shamelessly
feeble belting out Sweet Caroline in a karaoke bar. In the staggering
career of Neil Diamond, most people now think of the sequined-shirted man belting
out anthems like Coming to America, rather than the incredible songwriter.
His latest release, 12 Songs, should remind the world that he knows how to craft
amazing material without grandiose production behind it.
After playing the
final date of a frenetic 120-show tour on New Years Eve 2002, Diamond
reflects, All I wanted in 2003 was to rest, relax, and sit outside with
the sun on my face doing as little as work as possible. I surprised myself when
after just a few short days of quiet bliss; new words and melodies began to
creep into my head. I tried to resist, but it was impossible. Despite
his initial desire for an extended break, he immediately began scratching out
rough song ideas that he found compelling.
Another auspicious development was the fact that Rick Rubin, the producer mastermind
who oversaw great works by everyone from Johnny Cash, Tom Petty, Red Hot Chili
Peppers, and The Beasties Boys, was very interested in working with Diamond.
Upon meeting with Rubin, The Jazz Singer star immediately discovered, He
loved music the same way I did. For both of us it was visceral, passionate,
and could even be an elevating experience. It turned out that we served the
same mistress -music, and that was to become our first real connection.
From that point, one would think that Rubin would eagerly sweep the veteran
performer into the studio and begin tracking, but the development process for
12 Songs underwent a period of organic growth for the artist. After agreeing
to work with one another, Diamond reveals, Early on, Rick and I would
just sit around for hours listening to music like a couple of teenagers. It
was a free-for-all. I wanted to listen to rock and roll classics, but Rick had
a list of my old records that he wanted to talk about, mostly stuff I hadnt
listened to in years. Things he liked, things he didnt like, and things
he just wanted to know what the hell I was thinking.
Once they had found common ground for the projects direction, the songsmith
began grinding away at the studio to write a compelling album. Upon playing
Rubin his first batch of ideas, Diamond admits, Rick was determined not
to rush the process, but to wait until we got to the essence of the songs I
was working on. He wanted these recordings to be as simple and unadorned as
possible. They had to be genuine and authentic . . . and me.
Once the two felt they had a stellar collection of material, Rubin assembled
a small ensemble of incredible musicians the help record the album: Mike Campbell,
Smokey Hormel, and Benmonth Tench.
Listening to 12 Songs is an inspiring experience. From the way Neil Diamond
gently counts in Oh Mary, the listener knows he is not going to
be hearing an overindulgent affair, but a simple, confessional record. The understated
production and Diamonds distinctive voice render songs like Evermore
or Captain of a Shipwreck as secular hymns. The closing song, We,
is bouncy anthem of philosophical simplicity. Neil Diamonds artistry has
come full circle and he has made not only one of the years best albums,
but one of the finest works of his career.