Spotlight on: Neil Diamond (SERIOUSLY!)

He’s not hip, he’s not cool, he’s not current, Timbaland won’t be sampling any crying babies on his album, but Neil Diamond’s 12 Songs, released in 2005 and re-released with some bonuses this year, is one of the best damn albums I’ve heard in years. And kids, this ain’t your father’s Neil Diamond. This isn’t flashy, Vegas-y, sequined jumpsuited Neil. This isn’t “The Jazz Singer.” No, this is a quieter, simpler, more introspective Neil.

Perhaps the change can be attributed to Neil’s work with producer Rick Rubin–a ZZTop-bearded hulk of a man also known as one of the most respected music producers in the business (his resume includes working with The Dixie Chicks, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Beastie Boys, Johnny Cash on the American Recordings series, Jay-Z, Shakira, Slipknot and Justin Timberlake). And though Rubin’s production list is diverse, he’s perhaps best known for the stripped-down, minimalist sound that defines both Cash’s last series of albums and Diamond’s latest treasure. Rubin sought out Diamond, who had only recently begun writing songs again, and together they embarked on an intensive process that included listening to hours and hours of music, starting with classic rock and roll and moving on to some of Diamond’s older albums. Writes Diamond in the liner notes of 12 Songs

…Rick had a list of my old records that he wanted to talk about, mostly stuff I hadn’t listened to in years. Things he liked, things he didn’t like, and things that just made him want to know what the hell I was thinking.

The process continued. Diamond would write, often wearing down pencils to the nub. He’d show Rubin what he’d come up with, Rubin would approve or disapprove, critique, send him back into the studio. Empty coffee cups and discarded legal pads littered the ground. Rubin’s goal, according to Diamond, was to “strip down the songs to their very essence,” to the barest of the bare, to something completely honest and raw, completely without gloss or pretense. Said Diamond, “I loved the sheer freedom of creating music for its own sake.” (Music for its own sake. Aaaaaand thus begins my own personal campaign to get Rick Rubin to produce Taylor’s next album.)

And the finished product? There is some amazing stuff on this album. Simple, universal, accessible to be sure, but Diamond’s songwriting is surely a far cry from the vague tenth-grade-diary lyrics that define modern pop. I have three favorite tracks: “Oh Mary,” with its simple chord progressions, “Delirious Love,” prominently featuring both Diamond’s rasp and carefree acoustic guitar work that for me evokes memories of crisp winter nights at the fair with my high school sweetheart, and finally, “Men Are So Easy,” a lyrical gem that, while offering no earth-shattering revelations, is so simple and honest that it hits you as deep in the gut as any more complex or more difficult to decipher song might.

Diamond’s on AOL Sessions this week; be sure to check it out.

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6 Responses to “Spotlight on: Neil Diamond (SERIOUSLY!)”


  1. 1 OsirisShotDown January 10, 2007 at 5:10 pm

    Dammit, Kat… Between you and Gray, I’m spending way too much money on iTunes…

    When I first started reading this entry, I reflexively let out a derisive snort. Yeah, right, Neil Diamond, whatever. Out of curiosity, I checked the AOL sessions you linked to. OK, OK, I got sidetracked and checked out Taylor’s AOL sessions first. THEN I checked out ND’s. And I found myself liking what I heard in spite of myself. So I checked out the clips on Amazon. I guess now I’m going to have to download it, because I actually liked it. Bugger.

  2. 2 idolicious January 10, 2007 at 5:28 pm

    Hahaha…sucks when that happens, doesn it? ;-)

  3. 3 PayTheDevil January 10, 2007 at 8:03 pm

    Rick Rubin from Johnny Cash fame? Oh, please that would be so fabulous. Those boys grabbed up them some Grammy’s and produced SERIOUS music!

  4. 4 Solitary Man January 11, 2007 at 3:07 pm

    I think that Neil Diamond is actually “hip” and “cool” now.College-rock radio playing 12 Songs cuts,alternative publications talking about his songwriting skills,bands like Sun Kill Moon and Crooked Fingers covering him.And best of all-he blasts ‘American Idol’ in interviews.What else does he need to be considered “cool” and “hip”?

  5. 5 idolicious January 11, 2007 at 3:18 pm

    Solitary Man, I used the terms “hip” and “cool” in the mainstream sense, meaning that he’s not really what’d you call Top 40 material. As I hope you can see from the review I gave him, and from the rest of my site, I don’t have much regard for Top 40, nor do I particulary care what’s hip and cool. Sorry for the confusion.

    He does blast “Idol.” But what does he think about Taylor? ;-)

  6. 6 Solitary Man January 11, 2007 at 3:38 pm

    not sure what he thinks about Taylor,but he probably would like his music.

    I think some of Neil’s comments were directed at American Idol’s friendly and sensitive judge Simon.The “I would never make it on that show.”


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