2 out of 5 stars
Whatever inspiration Neil Diamond might have picked up from Rick Rubin, who produced his previous, generally well received two albums of original material, seems to have dissipated on the singer/songwriter’s first set of new material in six years. It’s hard to say if shifting producers to Don Was and returning to the Diamond’s more bloated adult contemporary sound, after successfully stripping things down for Rubin, is the culprit. But this 11 song disc gets off to a slow start and goes downhill from there.
The problems begin with the 71 year old Diamond’s lyrics which are at best simplistic and at worst obvious and corny. There are few subtleties or shades of meaning and when the subject turns to love and gets gooey, which is often, the results can be ear cringing. Diamond swings for the fences on the sappy “Seongah and Jimmy,” a tale of love between a Korean woman and New Jersey man who find each other and happiness in Brooklyn. Trite concepts like “Seongah and Jimmy live near each other out there in Greenpoint/move in together, promise forever/she cooks Korean he likes Korean too” are indicative of the broader difficulties. Add Diamond’s booming, occasionally vibrato baritone that never reaches for anything less than the back rows, along with full Broadway styled orchestration as he tries to sell this like some mini-opera, and the effect is overblown and even embarrassing.
There are a few reasonably hummable melodies scattered throughout, particularly in the strutting, strummy “In Better Days,” one of the few times the instrumentation and vocals are scaled back. Unfortunately Diamond returns with “Marry Me Now” that begins with “We don’t believe in breakin’ up/we do believe in makin’ up,” words so clunky and obvious it’s hard to believe they weren’t written by a junior high school student. Some of these choruses are so feeble, they make the oft-maligned “no one heard at all, not even the chair” from “I Am… I Said” seem as deep as Leonard Cohen.
There is no denying Diamond’s legendary status or the respect he deserves for longevity in a career that started in the mid-60s. He’s also obviously giving these songs all he’s got. But if this underwritten, over produced debut for Capitol (after being affiliated with Columbia since 1973) is the best he can muster up in six years, it’s sad to say, it’s time to consider retirement.