Review ... Neil Diamond's "12 Songs"

Neil Diamond
“12 Songs”

It only took 35 years, but Neil Diamond has finally released the singer songwriter album that we would get the occasional glimpse of. “12 Songs” offers the proverbial journey back in time when Neil delivered unplugged style, scaled down songs regularly. Think … “Girl, You’ll be a Woman Now” … “Brooklyn Roads” … “Solitary Man” … and you get the idea. “12 Songs” is an exceptional recording and is Neil’s best work since 1988’s “The Best Year of Our Lives” and his most listenable since 1996’s “Tennessee Moon.”

“12 Songs” finds Neil writing about his usual topics of love, vulnerability, and relationships … but from the point of view of a 64 year old man who is knowingly in the autumn of his years. The overall mood that is created is similar to Frank Sinatra’s “September of My Years” … Sinatra’s coming to terms with his life and marriage to Mia Farrow upon his turning 50 years old. In the album opener, “Oh Mary,” Neil gently asks, … “Oh Mary, can you hear my song/Does it make a mournful sound?” In “Create Me” Neil pleads, … “How many seasons have we endured?” “Save Me a Saturday Night” finds Neil pondering, …”How did I ever find you?”

The stripped down instrumentation, Neil’s closely miked vocals, the aging of his singing voice, and the directness of his lyrics make for a moving, emotional listen. There is no mistaking this album for the over the top theatrics of his live arena shows. For the fan of “Love on the Rocks” and “Hello Again,” this is the album for you.

So much of the buzz surrounding “12 Songs” centered on Rick Rubin acting as the producer. Rubin had worked with Johnny Cash during the last decade of his life and was instrumental in bringing out the brooding, creative artist from inside of Cash, which was sometimes overlooked with his outlaw image. Suffice it to say, Rubin has worked his magic here and has created the space for Neil to re-invent himself. Treat yourself to “12 Songs” … easily one of the ten best albums of 2005.

Required Listening – a half dozen of Neil’s best recordings

Classics (Columbia – 1990)
The Best Years of Our Lives (Columbia – 1988)
And the Singer Sings His Songs (MCA - 1976)
Serenade (Columbia – 1974)
Hot August Night (MCA – 1972)
Gold: Live At the Troubadour (MCA – 1970)
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I will check this out, as I am a Neil Diamond buff. He is one of those few artists that is true to himself. So much of modern music today is just marketing and what sells.

I read in an article that when Rick Rubin was approached for this project he said only if Neil would accompany himself on guitar for the 12 songs. Diamond relented and now after hearing how personal and emotional these recordings sound he will never record without his guitar in his hand again. My only thing is it has that copy guard on it and after a few plays on my Cd player It would start having trouble trying to get it to play. That's the reason I avoided the new dave matthews band CD.
Neil Diamond has made a very interesting evolution through the years. The days of Solitary Man and Velvet Gloves and Spit to the Jonathan Livinston Seagul then the Beautiful Noise to Tap Root Manuscript and somehow going from Serenade to Love on the Rocks. It makes for a very interesting career. Has has tried so many time IMO to find a certain style. But somehow he didn't seem to realize that he was creating his own all along. I kind of relate him to a Elvis but a songwriter.
Interesting. I like Neil and have read other good reviews of this release. I sampled it yesterday and was disapointed. I will give it another listen.

be careful...this CD is listed as having the Sony DRM crap
I posted a brief review of it over on Audio Asylum. I agree with your sentiments. "12 Songs" is perhaps the best album Neil has ever cut. The melodies are fantastic, the instrumental work (by Heartbreakers Benmont Tench and Mike Campbell, among others) is first-rate, and the sonics are sublime. Rick Rubin deserves a lot of credit, but if Neil hadn't been up to the task, it would've showed in the end result. Thankfully, it doesn't. The album is a triumphant return for one of this country's better singer-songwriters.
Qdrone and Zshuster:

The "12 Songs" CD does have the SONY DRM information listed
on the back CD cover and this is true for both the regular and digipak
versions of this CD. I have played it at least a dozen times on my Musical
Fidelity CD PRE24 CD player/preamp; my SONY SCD 555 ES SACD changer;
and my portable Technics SX-430 CD player with NO PROBLEMS and no
strange after effects. Anyways, given that the copy protection software is just
that ... software, for standalone CD player only use, I don't see how you would
have any trouble.

Even though I have a MAC computer and SONY's copy protection software
reportedly does not affect the OS-X operating systems, I will not chance
playing this CD on my computer. I had wanted to load "12 Songs"
on my iPod.

I would think that a solution might be downloading this CD from iTunes and
then creating a playlist for iPod use or making a CD copy.

The Kid:

"12 Songs" is not an easy first, second, or third listen and does
not lend itself to sampling. These are some of the most complex and cleverly
arranged stripped down songs I have ever heard. Spend some time with
"Oh Mary" and you will see what I mean. You can hear echoes of
some of Neil's previous albums, ... "Beautiful Noise" ... "I'm
Glad You're Hear With Me Tonight" ... "Stones" ... in these
new songs.

Thanks for the comments.

Regards, Rich

I very much agree (obviously) with your thoughts. Since he started out, Neil has looked to stretch himself as an artist. The "African Suite" that comprises the second side of "Tap Root Manuscript," as well as "Songs From the Brill Building," come immediately to mind. I remember his interviews over the years and Neil would always speak about evoking some type of theme in his songs. I had just thought that his stage persona got in the way of making an album like "12 Songs." For a long time, he was determined to record schlock like "Headed to the Future" (you really have to hear this one live to appreciate its schlock value) and emotional, moving songs like those that comprise "The Best Years of Our Lives" never made it to his stage show. But now, we have "12 Songs" to appreciate and I am not complaining.

Regards, Rich
Anyone remember Neil's new wave/leather metal phase from about 20 years ago?
No, but I do remember "the Band" saying who invited him? to their Last Waltz celebration concert.
Tomryan and Pehare:

There is no reason to flame Neil for either his "Last Waltz" appearance or his "Headed to the Future" phase. If you read his interviews over the years, Neil has agonized over being relevant and that sometimes saw him going down some strange paths. But I am also sure that there have been other artists caught up in this same type of quandry (the Rolling Stones did do disco you know and I seem to remember Sinatra singing "Bad Bad Leroy Brown").

About 15 years ago, there was a TV Guide article about a Neil Diamond prime time TV special featuring his "Headed to the Future" songs. The TV producer was choreographing a number of modern dance segments that quite frankly, Neil could not relate to and it left him wondering just what he was doing there. It is interesting that you mention the Band's comments, because afterwards the Band and others did feel that Neil belonged on the stage with them. They were initially reacting to his pop star image and not recognizing Neil as a musician.

Regards, Rich
Robbie Robertson invited him to "The Last Waltz". That must count for something. He produced what is Neil's (arguably) best album, "Beautiful Noise". I grew up on Neil. My parents played his records a lot. I actually read this thread yesterday and decided to play some of those old records that I stole from my parents. I listened to "Serenade", "Moods", and "Taproot Manuscript", and it was a joy. That music has LIFE in it. A lot of what you might call "serious" or "important" music doesn't have it. I think I need to get "12 Songs". Is it out on vinyl?


I don't think that "12 Songs" is out on vinyl and for some reason, I tend to doubt that it will come out on vinyl. For whatever reasons, Neil's Columbia/SONY catalog only seems to be available on CD. Not one of Neil's albums ever made it to SACD, which you would think would have been a no brainer for SONY, given that they own the catalog.

The sonics are pretty decent on CD, though the CD sounds much better played through speakers, as opposed to a portable CD player and headphones.

Regards, Rich
I don't think the DRM stuff affects audio gear like CD players, pre-amps would be a factor if played on a computer
I'm gonna buy it just to hear what all the hype is about. My Aunt Bernice who past away a couple of months ago just loved Neil Diamond and I bought her albums from Ameoba in Hollywood so she could sit and listen to them after she lost her sight. I would visit her and we would listen on an old stereo system but what did i care it made her happy. i'll let you know what i think guys.
You guys are gonna chase me down and break my legs but, here goes...Bruce Springsteen always reminded me of a "trying to be hipper" Neil. Both had that overwraught emotional stage activity and gesticulations. Neil's lyrics often seemed so forced and precious, that is, after about 1969. The 70s did trap a lot of people. Anyone remember The Jazz Singer?

Anyway, I'm off to the Caribbean for a week so fire away.
Tom and/or Ryan:

Nothing to fire away about. Neil's original 60's persona ... singer/songwriter; black jeans; boots; guitar slung over the shoulder ... has long been viewed as the predecessor for the young Springsteen; young Billy Joel; etc. It's actually a compliment when considering the Neil Diamond circa "Cherry Cherry."

After awhile though, I think that that persona does trap a performer. How does a solo musician keep the audiences engaged over the years in venues like Madison Square Garden or the Meadowlands arena without the full blown theatrics? Look at the cover of the original Hot August Night (1972) ... it looks like Neil is masturbating for Christ sakes!

"The Jazz Singer" had some fairly decent music ("Love on the Rocks" and "Hello Again"), but the movie did make me want to poke my eyes out. It just wasn't the 70's, it's anytime that an artist becomes a caricature of himself (Eddie Murphy comes to mind).

This may be the real talent that Rick Rubin has ... his ability to draw out the real artist in these performing caricatures (like Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond).

Enjoy the Caribbean. When you come back give "12 Songs" a listen.

Regards, Rich
I have had this CD for a few weeks and love the music, but I'm bothered by some of the sonics. Is it my system, or is this the way the CD was recorded. There seems to be a "roughness" , almost some siblance, on the leading edge of the words being sung on some songs. I notice this , for example, on the very first song on the CD. This may be the way his voice sounds, but I'm curious if others hear this.

I doubt very much that it is your system. At times, it does sound like Neil is "kissing" the mic and that highlights the aging of his voice. His voice has always had a bit of a rough edge to it. When I first listened to the CD, it was through a pair of headphones on a portable CD player and the occasional roughness was noticeable.

Regards, Rich
Rar1...Good to hear. I can cancel the order for the $400000. All-Krell system, then....Mr Visa will be pissed!!
Thanks for the in the boonies, it's tough to get a second listen on a good system ...