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Neil Diamond – Dreams

on November 17, 2010, 8:00am

Neil Diamond is one of the best-selling artists of all time. He is in the Songwriters Hall of Fame and has sold over 115 million albums worldwide. His songs have been played, covered, and adapted into hits for numerous artists across the board—from Johnny Cash to HIM. And now Diamond has returned the favor with a covers album of his own. Dreams features Diamond’s take on 14 of his personal favorites. Unfortunately, at 69, Diamond has become somewhat of a parody of himself, and this album does not help matters at all.

Diamond goes for the gusto in some of his song selections for the album—picking two Beatles tunes and songs from Leonard Cohen, Elton John, and even Gladys Knight and the Pips. To his credit, Diamond puts his own shine on the songs and attempts to stay away from straight covers. The versions are sparse and simple—using only guitar, strings, and piano most the time. But that is about where the credit stops. The sparseness creates a high level of schmaltz that is somewhat akin to Rod Stewart’s albums of standards, but unfortunately the schmaltz is not welcome here.

Diamond’s versions are often far more morose than the original songs. Even his version of a song he composed, “I’m a Believer”, has been taken far away from the upbeat love song that made it famous. Instead Diamond has recorded a song that, while at times hopeful, is heartbreakingly sad almost to an uncomfortable point.

Uncomfortable is a good word for the album as a whole. His reworkings of “Desperado” by The Eagles, “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen (with flairs of the Rufus Wainwright version), and “Yesterday” by the Beatles come across as what you’d expect Will Ferrell’s impression to sound like. Either Ferrell’s impression was that dead-on, or Diamond has just fallen into the joke without even knowing it. And the songs simply sound less compelling than the original versions. It is like a whole album of muzak that is only missing the Kenny G saxophone.

There are a couple of strong tracks on the album, including the opening cover of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Alone Again (Naturally)” by Gilbert O’Sullivan. “Ain’t No Sunshine” has a great beat and drive to it, and Diamond gives it great life. “Alone Again (Naturally)” is one of the few sad songs here made more jolly by Diamond, and it’s one of the happiest songs about suicide I have ever heard.

Overall, Dreams gives the impression that Diamond should just stick with “Cracklin’ Rosie” and “America”—his comfort zone. This foray into indulgence somewhat erases the step forward he took with the Rick Rubin-produced 12 Songs. Let’s hope that he realizes this and takes a few more leaps forward to put Dreams behind him. It’s an album that I’m sure your aunt will like, but it will likely be a mere curiosity to you.

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