The reinvention of Neil Diamond by the producer Rick Rubin, which has brought the singer his first transatlantic No 1 album, Home Before Dark, seems an invention itself, the more you watch the man on stage. This is a very different man in black from Johnny Cash, whose sense of a biblically stark world chimed so perfectly with Rubin's stripped musical values. There are spangles on Diamond's black shirt, and no enduring sense of night in his soul.
Walking on to a huge ovation with "One More Bite of the Apple", Diamond is soon slinging an acoustic guitar over his shoulder for "Home Before Dark". Spotlit, with soft woodwind shadowing this song of romantic salvation, his 1960s self-image as a Greenwich Village singer-songwriter is briefly revived. But the new album's "Don't Go There" is a full-on mid-1960s pop production, with hand-shimmying backing singers. As with "I'm a Believer", this isn't an attempt at retrospective kitsch, but the real thing. "We keep moving like this, and we've been doing it for 40 years now," as Diamond says of his veteran musicians.
The mild weirdness that sets Diamond apart from other Tin Pan Alley veterans is fully apparent when he revives "Crunchy Granola Suite". "A man with a tiger outside his gate, not only can't relax, he couldn't relate," he confides, in a typically strange, uncensored stream of consciousness.
He sits on a stool in classic confessional mode for "I Am... I Said". But as he sings on "Song Sung Blue", "Me and you are subject to the blues, now and then" – neither a permanent nor unduly pressing condition. If he really is the "Solitary Man", he is not the sort to weigh us down with such problems. They add to, but never leave, a showbiz level of profundity.
"How can I hurt when I'm here with you? Impossible!" he roars during "Sweet Caroline". His biggest hit may contain the secret of his success – almost meaningless, one step up from a jingle, but as such unstoppably memorable, and sung with giant conviction. Joining Linda Press in a duet on "You Don't Bring Me Flowers", the passage of time seems real in this hokey song, which speaks to his faithful, ageing audience. They'll still be with him when the whims of fashion pass on.Reuse content