Published on July 24th, 2014 | by Andy Sedlak
‘Home Before Dark’ – Neil Diamond 
Summary: Diamond tries to come back after the “comeback” but the results are abysmal. The plodding, self-serving songs often start nowhere and end nowhere.
Length: 63:01 | Released: May 5, 2008
Producer: Rick Rubin
Peak Position on Billboard Album Chart: 1
Top 40 U.S. Singles: 0
How you react to your own good fortune says a ton about you. Do you take it in stride? Maintain your focus? Aspire to even greater heights?
Or do you step on your manhood?
In 2008, Neil Diamond reacted in the cheesiest, most self-serving way possible. To fully understand it, we need to go back to 2005. Back then it was pretty good being Neil Diamond. Why’s that? It’s because his reputation was finally restored.
After penning a staggering number of hits in the ’60s, Diamond found himself playing to arenas of grandmothers by the late ’70s. He may have written “I’m A Believer” while he collected checks at the Brill Building. And he may have blazed a solo career with smash hits like “Solitary Man,” “Cherry Cherry” and “Kentucky Woman.” But by the time “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” – his collaboration with Barbara Streisand – topped the charts in 1978, you could find the former rocker’s records under “Adult Contemporary” at your local library. Not exactly a section the kids buzz about, nor a genre that breaks down many artistic barriers.
Neil Diamond’s introduction video for his 2011 induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Faster than you could say “Cracklin’ Rosie,” Diamond descended into a dark world of cover records, movie soundtracks and schmaltzy soft pop.
But all of that changed in 2005.
That November, Diamond released one of the greatest comeback records of all time. 12 Songs pushed every emotional button Diamond was capable of. In 2001, he released his first album of all original material since 1976, but it was the release of 12 Songs in 2005 that would be seen as the ultimate comeback. Here are excerpts of reviews at the time of its release:
Where (Johnny) Cash‘s comeback confirmed what everybody already knew about him, this presents a side of Neil Diamond that’s never been heard on record and, in the process, it offers a new way of looking at the rest of his catalog — which is a pretty remarkable achievement.” – All Music
“It’s not flawless, though it’s damn good, and consistently engrossing.” – Mojo
“The material grabs the listener by the collar and holds on tight.” – Uncut
Comparisons to Cash’s comeback were appropriate. Producer Rick Rubin – famed for his versatility – was at the helm of both. And he conducted session traffic in similar ways. Cash’s records with Rubin, as well as Diamond’s, were totally stripped down and stark. Expert session players – shout out to pianist Benmont Tench of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers – built the songs up and wrapped their playing around the vocalist’s strengths and phrasings. The results showcased incredible warmth, intimacy and power.
After 12 Songs cracked the Top 5, Diamond got more press than he’d had in years. All eyes were watching for a follow up, and the 67-year-old Diamond re-enlisted Rubin to assist him in running the ultimate victory lap.
An interview with Diamond as he toured to support the record.
The results were dopey, disappointing and downright dismal. Home Before Dark was released in 2008 and put Diamond right back in touch with your grandmother. Part of Diamond’s problem was that he was riding high on a false sense of security, as evidenced by the album’s liner notes:
“The real world of family, friends, news, TV, movies, baseball, books and most of all, other people’s music, was tuned out. This isolation caused a deep uneasiness which I carried around with me every day that I spent writing this album.”
…and Diamond’s self-penned notes go on for seven more pages.
As you might suspect, Home Before Dark’s self-indulgence contributes to its diminishing returns. Of its 12 tracks, five last over 6 minutes. The problem, of course, isn’t the length of the song. It’s what Diamond’s doing as the song drags out. So let’s face it. The man was playing up one cheeky song concept after another.
Rubin’s production work is once again consistent. His veteran players are again in prime condition. Ironically, the album begins with one of the strongest tunes of Diamond’s career. “If I Don’t See You Again” is a well-rounded song that starts with a spare, yet emotional core. It blossoms into a statement about life, love, loss, compromise, choices and sorrow. As the song progresses, Tench’s piano becomes more prominent as Diamond sings a number of eyebrow raising lines.
From “If I Don’t See You Again:”
Don’t pay to make it alone
God knows it’s lonely out there
I made it once on my own
And hardly anyone cared
And at the end of the day
I hated sleeping alone
There’s nothing worse when you’re lost
And you don’t wanna go home
It’s one of the only songs on the album where length isn’t a liability. Because the only thing worse than a cheesy song is a long, cheesy song.
Diamond plays “If I Don’t See You Again,” the record’s best track.
“Pretty Amazing Grace” seems forgivable in the wake of the radiance of “If I Don’t See You Again,” but by the time we get to the fourth track on the album we can already see the sun setting on Diamond’s prized follow up to 12 Songs. “Another Day (That Time Forgot)” is the only tune to feature a guest vocalist. The duet with Natalie Maines – who rarely expresses a flair for phrasings or emotional transparency – begins nowhere and ends nowhere.
The album never really recovers after “Another Day (That Time Forgot).”
“One More Bite of the Apple” is a self-righteous commentary on Diamond’s own comeback.
From “One More Bite of the Apple:”
Read the word from the page
Free the bird from the cage
Just go out there and face
What you did before
Did it once
You can do it once more
We don’t need to hear about this for six-and-a-half minutes. I hate to say this… but you’re repeating yourself, grandpa.
Diamond plays “Pretty Amazing Grace.”
“Forgotten” picks up the plodding pace but not without the not-so-subtle reminder that Diamond’s songwriting at this point nears on jingoistic. Perhaps it’s subtle, but his songs are still jingoistic to a fault.
“No Words” provides some giddy up on the record’s back nine. But tracks like “Act Like A Man, “Whose Hands Are These” and “The Power of Two” shoot for majestic but end up thematically minimalistic.
From “The Power of Two:”
I never knew before that two was more
Than one and one until that night.
“Slow It Down” works too well. At almost five minutes, it’s three minutes too long. And it sets up the album to end with two ass-dragging ballads in a row.
Diamond made a bit of history with the release of Home Before Dark. He became the oldest artist to ever have a Number One record. He would hold the title until Bob Dylan released Together Through Life about a year later.
Commercial success isn’t always synonymous with artistic triumph. It certainly wasn’t in this case. Besides, Home Before Dark probably owed much of its success at the register to the good vibes still left over from three years earlier. I can tell you I bought Home Before Dark because I liked 12 Songs so much. I doubt I was alone.
Since 2008, Diamond released A Cherry Cherry Christmas and then a cover album in 2010. Yet, there’s talk of a new album of original material this fall from Capitol Records. If it comes to fruition, it will be his first since Home Before Dark.
Let’s say he’s poised for a comeback.