Believe it or not, Neil Diamond was the Justin Timberlake of his day. He had the following of teenage girls who all considered him to be undeniably sexy; the only difference between him and Justin Timberlake was that he could actually sing.
And then, a strange thing happened. All those teenage girls and others who followed Neil Diamond back in his early days grew into adults with jobs, families, and other responsibilities. These fans continued to track with Neil Diamond as time went on, but despite his best efforts he failed to gain any traction with younger fans.
So in 2005, when Neil Diamond decided he wanted to do a new album, he went out and got producer Rick Rubin. Rick Rubin has worked with several well-known musicians over the years, but is best known nowadays for his work with Jay-Z. Did that mean that Neil Diamond was in the process of thugging out? No, it only meant that this album, 12 Songs, would be the best he had done in almost three decades. It featured a very stripped-down sound consisting of Neil Diamond, the guitar, and other sparse instrumentation. It was much more well received than anything he had done in three decades, debuting at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 album chart.
Home Before Dark picks up right where 12 Songs left off, continuing the sparse, minimalist sound that worked so well on 12 Songs. This time around, the songs are themed around love, second chances, and coming home after a lifetime of traveling far and wide through this world and this game called life.
The album leads off with “If I Don’t See You Again”, which sets the table for what is to follow with the idea that “it’s been a hell of a ride”. Next up is “Pretty Amazing Grace”, a song about love and redemption and second chances. Those of you who were fortunate enough to catch this season of American Idol had the opportunity to hear this song performed live. The theme of redemption and second chances continues with “One More Bite of the Apple”. Following this are several infectious, folksy songs including “Whose Hands Are These”, “No Words”, and “The Power of Two”. These songs could easily pass for some of the best of Neil Diamond’s standards, songs such as “Sweet Caroline” or “Song Sung Blue”. “Slow It Down” slows it down in preparation for the final song, and “Home Before Dark” ties everything together in a powerful closing statement about having traveled far and wide in this world and this game called life, and struggling to get “home before dark”.
Neil Diamond wrote a book’s worth of material to go in the liner notes for this album, but if you take the time to read it you will gain a full appreciation for the process he went through to conceive these songs and bring them to life on this album.
If you like Neil Diamond, then prepare to be impressed by some of the best work that he has done in over three decades. Somehow I don’t think Justin Timberlake will be sounding quite this good when he’s 67.