At 73, the only reason for a national treasure like Neil Diamond to still be making albums — let alone entirely self-written ones — is because he wants to. He already has pulled the nest-egg moves: His last four releases were a covers LP, his third Christmas album, his seventh live collection and his umpteenth greatest-hits collection. And he’s decades past needing new music as a calling card for his ultra-lucrative tours. Yet here he is, with a new label and his 32nd studio set, produced by the intriguing tag team of Blue Note president Don Was (Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, The Rolling Stones) and Jacknife Lee (U2, R.E.M.).
While that pair brings back the big, lush arrangements Diamond’s classic work is known for, the songs themselves are similar to his last two albums of originals, the Rick Rubin-helmed 12 Songs and Home Before Dark: smooth and unhurried, with lyrics that take a long view on love and life. These songs couldn’t be more definitively Diamond if they had been written by a parodist. “Melody road, let’s go a mile/I’ll tie on my ramblin’ shoes,” he sings on the title track.
Throughout are echoes of classics like “Song Sung Blue” (one track here is actually called “Something Blue”) and “Holly Holy.” But he’s not living in the past: “Seongah and Jimmy” is a nod to his hometown’s new age, telling the story of a Long Island boy and a Korean girl who find love in Brooklyn’s trendy Greenpoint neighborhood (a true story inspired by Diamond’s brother-in-law). Sure, it gets schmaltzy sometimes — it’s Neil Diamond, after all. But at a time when some of his contemporaries are embarrassing themselves, he’s confident in his legend without resting on his laurels, challenging himself without garishly attempting to be contemporary and playing to his strengths with a self-deprecating wink. We should all age this gracefully.
This article first appeared in the Oct. 25 issue of Billboard.