Rick Rubin is not God. He has produced more than a few bad albums in his day. Yes, his early work the Beastie Boys, Run-DMC and Slayer is undeniably awesome. But after that, for every Johnny Cash record, there have been plenty of mediocre releases by the Cult and Red Hot Chili Peppers. And Weezer. The magic that he created on Cash’s 1994 American Recordings is not that easy to replicate.
He tried with Donovan in 1996 on Sutras but failed. I might be the world’s biggest Donovan apologist, but that album is just not that good. It’s out of print now, so most people will never even know. The problem was that when Rubin stripped Donovan down to his bare essence, all that was left was a sweet old guy singing boring (but pretty) ballads that didn’t really go anywhere or make you feel anything.
So I was cautiously optimistic when I heard about the collaboration with Neil Diamond. It could be great, but it could just as easily be terrible. Diamond is the guy who wrote and performed some of my all-time favorite songs (“I’m a Believer,” “Cracklin’ Rosie,” “Song Sung Blue”). But those great songs were all written and released at least 25 years ago. What have you done for me lately?
I’ll tell you what he’s done. He’s become a bedazzled entertainer who’s more than happy to sell out arenas across the country and sing to old ladies who worship his tight pants and overflowing chest hair. I’ve seen him in concert, and it was a great show but more than a little creepy to see him singing “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” while wearing that sequined shirt. Looking around and realizing that the youngest girl in the arena had likely “become a woman” during the Nixon administration made me feel a bit better. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a formerly great musician taking that path. It’s the path the Rolling Stones have taken, and there’s clearly a pot of gold at the end of the road. “The best Stones album since Some Girls” has become the lamest, most backhanded compliment ever. But shit, it’s been even longer since the Diamond has released anything that consistently measures up to the stuff he released on MCA during his heyday of 68-72.
So Rubin convinces him to ditch the spangles and get back to his songwriterly old ways. Diamond whines about having to play his own acoustic guitar parts, which he hadn’t done on record since the 60s: “I tried to figure out a way where one of the other guitar players could cover my parts, so I could just worry about singing it.” Rubin forces Diamond to rewrite songs until they’re emotionally honest, and we’ve got a recipe for something pretty great.
And it is. They were going for an intimate sound and they got it. You really feel what they were going for. “Oh Mary” could almost be a Leonard Cohen song with its emotions all hanging out there, exposed and naked and vulnerable. “Evermore” is classic Neil Diamond that builds and builds to a gentle crescendo reminiscent of “Play Me.” And “Hell Yeah” is the new “I Am, I Said,” no shit. It’s that good. When he tells you, “You’re going to be okay / You might get lost / But then you’ll find a way,” you feel that he’s singing right to you, and you really want to believe him. Maybe I am going to be okay.
There is just one bad production decision: the lack of drums. Yeah, yeah, intimacy, we get it. Now let’s rock out a little. Go back and listen to the drums on “Shilo” (the popular MCA version, not the earlier Bang Records version). Those are some of the best sounding drums ever. Do those drums make “Shilo” any less effective? Any less intimate? Would you feel that childhood loneliness of the kid who has to make up an imaginary friend any stronger without the drums? No, you would not. The drums add to the emotional impact. Listen to that awesome fill right before “Held my hand out, and I let her take me / Blind as a child…” Isn’t it awesome? Hell yeah, it is.
So if 12 Songs is a little heavy on intimacy, it’s a little light on the fun, upbeat Neil Diamond numbers that make you grin from ear to ear, and beat on the steering wheel, and speed when you’re driving. And I’m not just talking about “Sweet Caroline,” all you wedding-singer-come-latelies, although that is a fine song (even though Elvis—not Neil—recorded the definitive version). “Delirious Love” is the closest we come on 12 Songs, and the overly busy Brian Wilson remix tacked onto the end of the “Digipack” version comes even closer. The album wouldn’t feel as front-loaded as it does if we had some more fun songs in the second half.
But damn, who would’ve ever thought we’d be getting into this level of nitpickery about a Neil Diamond album released in 2005? It really is a good album, and anyone with a soft spot in their heart for old Neil would definitely enjoy it.
Unfortunately, Sony-BMG treats its customers like dumb criminals, and released the album with a bunch of bullshit copy-protection software that can wreck your computer if you don’t know how to stop it. So sadly, you must not buy this album. It’s time to stop supporting these companies who blatantly try to hurt us the way Sony has. We need to put our money where our mouth is, and stop whining about this stuff if we’re not prepared to act on it. You can probably find a friend who’s willing to share it with you rather than giving your money to a company that treats you this way. Copy-protection software shall not be tolerated; at best it just doesn’t work, and at worst it breaks your computer. Vote with your wallet!
14 thoughts on “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”
I notice that iTunes has 12 Songs. So, I wonder, would it be acceptable to buy from that source or would it still eventually line the coffers of Sony-BMG? Let’s not lose sight of Neil in all of this.
If you buy this album from any source the money goes back to Sony eventually. And I imagine Neil got an advance not sucha great royalty rate, so I’m sure he’s fine.
Believe me, though, I’d love to be able to tell everyone to go buy this album. But until Sony changes its evil, evil ways, I can’t support it.
Excellent comments! I’m only sorry about the fiasco caused by a not too bright Sony. Neil Diamond has, for too many decades, been underrated; with “12 Songs,” we were again made aware of just how good and powerful he can be. I’m afraid that Sony has done him no favors; if I were him – and I’m not – I’d be furious at his mistreatment by Sony.
I deeply regret it, especially since this album may be one of the greatest musical moments of his career..Peace…..
why does every review have to have a long preamble dissing Neil Diamond before reviewing the actual album?Stop apologizing for liking it already.Neil Diamond’s other albums are not that bad,his audience not that old.He puts on sparkling shirts-so what?Elton John puts on a duck costume,and he is in the rock n roll hall of fame.
Neil Diamond before Rubin was so schmaltzy and cheesy and over the top-yet Indie bands like Crooked Fingers and Sun Kill Moon covered his songs.Metal bands like Korn and Him covered his songs.Johnny Cash covered his song,and won a grammy for it.
Three words: The Jazz Singer.
oh now Mac, The Jazz Singer is a classic! haha.
The opening of the movie with “America” is genius and my favorite part is when the punk guy tries to cover ‘Love on the Rocks’ and screams at his producer….”I want more Boom-Boom!”
Does nobody in the US know that Sony have Seen The Error Of Their Ways? They’ve recalled the nasty protected CDs, and are busy replacing all the sold copies. They’re so busy doing so that they haven’t got any copies left to release to the rest of the world (poor us faithful fans in the UK). So just be patient until the re-release hits the shops, and then go out and treat yourself – you won’t believe your ears. It’s amazing.
Jan, Sony-BMG is still committed to using “copy-protection” on all of their CDs.
And they only recalled the [url=http://cp.sonybmg.com/xcp/english/titles.html]titles with XCP[/url] copy-protection, not the [url=http://www.sonybmg.com/mediamax/titles.html]ones with their other copy-protection software[/url], SunnComm, which is almost as bad!
And the un-installers they’ve released [url=http://www.boingboing.net/2005/12/07/sonys_drm_security_f.html]leave your computer more vulnerable[/url] than before.
And get a load of their exec’s attitude: Sony-BMG Global Digital Business President Thomas Hesse [url=http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4989260]said[/url], “Most people, I think, don’t even know what a rootkit is, so why should they care about it?”
Until they totally disavow their cockamamie content-protection schemes, and formally apologize to their customers, we should continue to [url=http://www.boycottsony.us/]boycott Sony[/url].
Back to Neil Diamond for a moment. “12 Songs” is something special from the Diamond/Ruben partnership and here’s hoping for another with a “rockin'” numbers.
Lots of people, who only know Diamond’s chart hits, are robbing themselves of the “deep cuts” and ought to check them out. Neil is an amazing songwriter and it’s worthwhile to listen to some lesser known gems remembering that with Neil’s music you need to think outside the box lyrically. There are a lot of double meanings in those songs.
Great review…one of the best I’ve seen in 2005.
I always thought Shilo was about a dog. Googled it and it seems to be up for debate.
“So you turn on the only friend you can find/
There in your mind”
that seems pretty straightforward to me.
i remember my sis telling me that Heartlight wasnt about ET…
the song was about that but not a soundtrack song
thats just weird
Hey – download it from MP3search for only $1.08! No XCP!
mine working very good