Home Before Dark opens with a tour de force, “If I Don’t See You Again,” which can stand with the best songs of Neil Diamond’s long career. It’s seven minutes with a protagonist who seems to be rehearsing what he’s going to say to a lover. He begins by acknowledging how she’s changed his life for the better–”I hated sleeping around”–while assuring her that if she leaves, “it was a hell of a ride.” From there, he muses on how madly in love he really is:
Who am I kidding? I’m going nowhere.
I can’t even get through an hour without you.
By the end he’s considering leaving her:
It’s time for saying goodbye
‘Cause if I stayed for too long
You’d get to know me too well
And find that something was wrong
It’s a portrait of a man who has found something incredible and has absolutely no idea to how to handle it, and it’s magnificent.
“If I Don’t See You Again” overshadows an album that, while far from a classic, has its share of good moments. Good moments don’t always make for a good album, though, and Home Before Dark is not nearly as consistent or enjoyable as his Diamond’s comeback record, 2005′s 12 Songs.
On the good side? Certainly “Another Day (That Time Forgot),” a pretty piano-and-guitar duet with Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks, is a highlight, as is the single, “Pretty Amazing Grace.” The closer, “Home Before Dark,” is also worth a listen. There are others.
However, the album feels interminable, especially the second half, which is considerably weaker than the first. Contributing to this problem, five of the songs are six minutes or longer. Often the material is strong enough to support these lengths on a song-by-song basis, but the cumulative effect just wears the listener out after awhile. Worrisome: on some songs, Home Before Dark marks a partial return to Diamond’s cheesy side, the side that often causes to people to lump him in with Barry Manilow rather than crediting him for his significant songwriting achievements.
As a producer, Rick Rubin has done a pretty good job of making the music sound good. However, a strong producer is also an editor, and he has failed in that role. Cutting out four or five of these songs and sending Neil back to write another two good ones would have benefited Home Before Dark immensely.
12 Songs marked a creative rebirth for Neil Diamond. Let’s hope Home Before Dark is just a sophomore slump.
“If I Don’t See You Again”: