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Auburn Annie 04-29-2008 01:43 PM

Neil Diamond - upcoming album
Shine on, you hip new Diamond

April 29, 2008

When I was growing up in the '70s, there were two Neils vying for position on the pop charts -- and which one you liked best said a lot about your values, integrity and the way you viewed the world.

The first was Neil Young, the epitome of folkie cool, his long scraggly hair and acoustic guitar rustic signs of authenticity as he wistfully crooned, "Old man, look at my life . . . I'm a lot like you were.''

The other was Neil Diamond, a bouffant-haired baby Elvis with lambchop sideburns, spectacled jumpsuits and a veneer of Teflon shmooze, and anybody who admitted to liking him was immediately regarded as a tasteless dabbler with an ear for schlock.

"Honey's sweet," crooned this second Neil on his '79 hit Forever In Blue Jeans, thrusting his pelvis as housewives fainted and the other Neil scowled from the sidelines. "But it ain't nothin' next to baby's treat.''

It wasn't that he had no talent. In the '60s, Diamond -- tonight's mentor on American Idol (8 p.m. on Fox, CTV) -- was a songwriting maverick, churning out bright, melodic hits for The Monkees (I'm A Believer) and a raft of edgy folk-pop singles (Solitary Man, Kentucky Woman) that presented him as a more rollicking Johnny Rivers, a souped-up Gordon Lightfoot.

But while the first Neil stubbornly stuck to his muse, charting his own course to superstardom, the second -- like the egregious Rod Stewart -- discovered a quicker route to success, unleashing a jarring exhibitionist streak that negated his true talents as he racked up schmoozy hits and twitched his butt to superstardom.

Longfellow Serenade, You Don't Bring Me Flowers, Love on the Rocks -- these songs, the embodiment of '70s schmaltz, were the biggest of his career, but true fans knew they couldn't hold a candle to the brooding intensity of I Am . . . I Said and the gospel-inflected fervour of Brother Love's Travelling Salvation Show.

By the time the '80s rolled around, the second Neil's biggest fans were dental receptionists and high school lunch ladies who swooned at the thought of "The Jewish Elvis" bustin' a move onstage, sweat pouring off his brow, in his silver-studded blue denim jumpsuit.

But Diamond, deep down, had to have known he'd sold himself out, that the fragile spark within him had been distorted beyond recognition.

Which may explain why, 40 years after his first hit, his artistic crisis suddenly resolved itself when -- older, wiser and, get this, cool -- he found the inspiration to ditch the Vegas trappings and return to his roots.

How was this possible? How could a man dismissed as a furry-chested punchline restore his tarnished image after so many years in the musical wilderness?

Credit Rick Rubin, the same visionary producer who resurrected faded country star Johnny Cash in his twilight years and turned him into a cross between Jesus and the Grim Reaper -- by urging Cash to lend his gravelly vocals to, among other things, a haunting version of a Neil Diamond song (Solitary Man).

Rubin apparently sensed something equally worthy in Diamond himself -- a reflective intensity, perhaps? A wryly observant sense of mortality? -- and on 2005's stripped down 12 Songs and the upcoming Home Before Dark, presents not the cartoon cutout we've been mocking for decades but a wisened troubadour who knows a few things about life and can still craft a mean pop hook.

In a fitting dose of irony, it's this back-to-basics Neil who has somehow landed on American Idol, the biggest cheese factory since K-Tel, to coach a bunch of neophytes who, I'm guessing, wouldn't know Neil Diamond from Lou Diamond Phillips.

There's no telling which Neil will show up, of course -- the paunchy schlockmeister or the tough-minded folk-pop poet. Cherry Cherry or Desiree? The truth is, it doesn't much matter.

At 67, Diamond knows who he is, what he's capable of, and his hipster quotient is so ineffable, so timelessly transcendent, it can easily withstand a prime-time lapse into maudlin sentiment and, even, it is hoped, tepid tributes from the same carnage-crazed Idol hopefuls who decimated the Beatles songbook a few weeks ago.

Let it rip, I say. Neil Diamond is the coolest and always will be. You read it here first.


RM 04-29-2008 01:55 PM

Re: Neil Diamond - upcoming album
A well written and interesting perspective on Diamond. I may actually watch the show.

Thanks for passing it along.

charlene 04-29-2008 08:08 PM

Re: Neil Diamond - upcoming album
I've always been a fan of his, seen him 3 times in Toronto..he is a great showman and the concerts I attended were big productions. He's a savvy businessman, wonderful singer songwriter and I will switch back and forth between Idol and the ballgame..I loved "Johnathon Livingston Seagull"..

Jesse Joe 04-29-2008 09:11 PM

Re: Neil Diamond - upcoming album
They didn't do Solitary Man, one of my favorite. I also am a Neil Diamond fan. :)

lighthead2toe 04-29-2008 10:57 PM

Re: Neil Diamond - upcoming album
Char, if one of those concerts was in Maple Leaf Gardens in the mid to late eighties I was there. An amazing performance. They took him out of there at the end of the show in an ambulance because he was exhausted. Fortunately he was ok. He was here in Vancouver in 1998 or 1999 filming a movie called "Saving Silverman." I was invited to sit in the audience when he was singing "Holly Holy" and to provide lots of applause. It was a fantastic experience. During the filming when they had to break for adjustments etc., like on one occasion he broke a guitar string, so during the downtime we had the opportunity to meet, chat with the crew etc. He was wonderful and I can honestly say a true gentleman as well. Ron J.

charlene 04-30-2008 10:20 AM

Re: Neil Diamond - upcoming album
I'd have to check my ticket stubs and programme date..I got some great photos from where I was sitting and at one point he had them turn up the house lights so anyone with cameras could come down during one song and take the pics they wanted then sit back and enjoy the concert..
He blew the roof off MLG that night..I saw him twice at MLG - thought it was 3X.

timetraveler 05-12-2008 11:16 PM

Re: Neil Diamond - upcoming album
I'll have to admit, as a kid I did listen to a lot of Neils material on the radio. The only thing that got to me after a while was the fact that so much of his music started to sound pretty much the same. The only exception was his Jazz Singer soundtrack. Even though I wasn't too crazy about the movie itsself, i did enjoy the soundtrack immensely. Perhaps his newest album will be as good as if not better.

814scenic 05-12-2008 11:36 PM

Re: Neil Diamond - upcoming album
I have also been a huge Neil Diamond fan! I have seen him in concert 4 times. 3 times in Pittsburgh and once in Miami! His shows were truly some of the best I have ever been to. The 1 Pittsburgh show in the mid 80's, he broke his record of performing. He was onstage over 3and a half hours. The audience wouldn't let him go and he was having so much fun, he said he was going to perform every song he had ever written! Amazing!

Borderstone 05-14-2008 09:03 PM

Re: Neil Diamond - upcoming album
Originally,Neil was my #1 favorite male singer but sadly,yes,the whole "Vegasizing" of him really put me off. By the late 80s,I had given up. (I naturally listened to modern acts of the 80s too of course but 70s acts spoke to me more).

Glad to see he's back in the form he was meant to be in. That review just might make me buy that CD. :)

ELizabeth 05-16-2008 05:19 AM

Re: Neil Diamond - upcoming album
I saw or read yesterday that 'Home Before Dark' was ranked as the #1 album this week. Don't recall #1 on which list though. I say Good For ND!

joveski 05-16-2008 09:20 PM

Re: Neil Diamond - upcoming album
billboard, i think

"Charts: Neil Diamond lands US number one
More than 41 years after making his US album chart debut, and 16 years after topping the UK chart, Neil Diamond finally has a number one album in America, debuting in pole position with Home After Dark.


ELizabeth 05-17-2008 12:00 AM

Re: Neil Diamond - upcoming album
Thanks for the List name, Joveski.

Borderstone 05-17-2008 08:42 PM

Re: Neil Diamond - upcoming album
What's more amazing than that is,Neil never had a #1 album the whole time he was a popular Top 40 hit maker. :confused:

His biggest album on the Billboard Top 200 album charts,until now,was the soundtrack to "Johnathan Livingston Seagull" which reached #2 !!
(An album you now find in used record or thrift stores everywhere.) :rolleyes:

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