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Sweet Caroline - Neil Diamond

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    Your dooyooMiles Miles

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      15.02.2006 17:47
      Very helpful



      Catchy 60s ditties from the Lord of all that is Spangly and not in the best of taste....

      Even the trendiest, most tasteful person has their blind spot. I wasn’t the trendiest most tasteful person to start with, I like Abba and I still listen to and enjoy the Wombles, so my recently developed blind spot, one that has destroyed any vestiges of street credibility I might have had for ever, is blinder than most. It’s Neil Diamond: God of all that is Sequined, Sparkly and Not in the Best of Taste and more embarrassing than the Wombles by far. Allegedly, eating cheese is addictive because it releases endorphines in the brain. Well I guess listening to it must have a similar effect on me. Having turned to the Dark Side - I’m still in shock - I decided to see if I could track down some of the Spangly One’s original albums to find out if the “unknown” stuff is as “good” as the hits. I am amazed at how difficult the process has been and how much I have had to find out about our Glitzy Friend in order to do so.

      I am now the proud - or at least, furtive - owner of seven Neil Diamond albums; three compilations - “Gold”, “Classics: The Early Years” and the CD which originally got me hooked “The Best of Neil Diamond”. I have also bought three of his original pre ‘72 albums; Tap Root Manuscript, Sweet Caroline, Touching You Touching Me and I have just, this morning, taken delivery of a fourth, the grimly titled “Velvet, Gloves and Spit” (a truly vile name for a record if you ask me) which, I gather, is the Shiny One’s biggest, most humongous turkey by dint of containing his two most embarrassing tracks ever... Mmmm that should be an interesting addition to the Listen Alone playlist on my iPod, then.

      Mr Diamond is one of the most bizarre, eccentric artists I’ve happened upon in a while, wherein, perhaps, lies his great appeal. I like wacky people. The material on my three Neil Diamond compilations is, for the most part, excellent although some of the versions aren’t the best he recorded. However on the four original albums I have it ranges from sublime to mind-bogglingly awful to completely, barking mad - as often as not in back to back tracks on the same CD. Buying any of his albums, even the pre 1972 stuff - I have been warned off anything post ‘72 and I intend to heed that warning - is a complete lottery, you never know what you are going to get. You could find yourself transported to aural heaven but unfortunately, it’s just as likely to be aural hell although there’ll be a couple of outstanding tracks on any of them alongside the singles you already know. I am writing this opinion - and may write a couple more - because there is a distinct lack of sensible, impartial reviews of Mr Diamond’s original albums on the internet and since I’ve had to wade through it all, good, bad and ugly I think the least I can do is point those brave souls travelling in my footsteps to the best bits, so they don’t have to.

      I am going to be reviewing the first and so far the best of the CDs I’ve bought by the Dark Lord of the Spangly Sith - the album formerly known as Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show, now called “Sweet Caroline”.

      But first... should you, too, feel the power of the Dark Side and wish to track down a non-compilation Mr Spangly album on CD, you’ll need to be armed with a whole host of information, which I am going to have to include, or you won’t get anywhere. If you are not looking for the album and merely wish to read the review you can skip the factoid section and go straight into the section titled “The Packaging.” That’s where I start talking about the album in earnest.

      Needless to say, I have sourced most of this information from my handy research tool, the internet.

      If you are going to avoid Mr Diamond’s post ‘72 Vegas Cabaret Schmaltzy offerings you need to know the names and approximate release dates of the pre ‘72 albums. This elementary piece of information is harder to uncover that it should be. The official site only concentrates on the current album and not all sources agree on their release dates so here they are - as near as dammit:

      1. The Feel of Neil Diamond (1966) (the Feel of Neil... YIKES!)
      2. Just for You (1967)
      3. Velvet Gloves and Spit (1968) - yuk...
      4. Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show - a.k.a. Sweet Caroline (1969)
      5. Touching You, Touching Me (1969)
      6. Tap Root Manuscript (1970) although my copy is dated 1972.
      7. Stones (1971)
      8. Moods (1972)

      There are two more in there “Greatest Hits” and “Shilo” which fit in between “Just for You” and “Velvet Gloves and (Eeew!) Spit” but they are rehashes, released after he moved record companies and I gather the songs are all on the first two anyway so I’ve left them out

      Neil Diamond is not a normal artist in that there appear to be more “best of” and “greatest hits” compilation albums than actual... well... albums. There are two reasons why I should imagine this might be: One, the mixed nature of his output must be difficult to market. Some of it sounds like folk, some of it sounds like it should be part of a Broadway musical, some of it sounds like Buddy Holly or early Beatles, some of it sounds like a cross between the Muppets’ Ma-Na-Ma-Nah and Sing Along With Des O’Connor and as previously mentioned, some of it’s absolutely raving hat stand.

      Two, it could be because his recordings belong to two separate record labels which means nobody has the rights to package and sell ALL of the key songs. That doesn't stop them from releasing numerous compilations with important songs manifest as re-records and/or live recordings of varying quality or just plain missing. They don’t always tell you, either so you buy the album because it contains what you think is the original version of some song or other only to discover it isn’t case in point Gold the five “early” songs at the end are off the live “Hot August Night” album of 1972 (I think it was). They’re not the ones I wanted or thought I was buying. It also means that most of his pre '72 albums are either deleted or rarer than unicorn pooh outside Canada and the US.

      In short, I believe that shot-to-the-foot-style turkeys aside, some of the Spangly One’s credibility problems are worsened by the way his work is packaged and sold. If only they'd give up on the compilations, redesign the cheesy covers, remaster the hissy tapes and re-release the original albums... I, for one, would much rather explore his catalogue, warts and all and make my own judgement about the less well known numbers - that said, as an ex marketing professional who has seen the original album covers and listened to some of the bigger turkeys I know that if I was trying to sell these things I’d deem some of them best swept discreetly under the carpet and left there. Sadly, even though the record company he’s with now owns the rights to the first two albums they are no longer available unless you find the (now deleted) “Classics; the early years” - one of the best - or buy the “In My Lifetime” boxed set which is expensive and goes well beyond the 1972 cut off point.

      My normal technique for exploring the work of a “new” (to me) musician is to ask a carefully chosen pool of friends who like and know music - and who I know won’t laugh - where they would recommend I start. However, none of my musically sussed friends would ever dream of listening to this stuff and if they did, I doubt they’d admit it. There was the ex boss, but he wasn’t going any further than “anything you can get hold of pre 1972 will be interesting". Notice he uses the word “interesting” and not “good”. “Aroogha aroogha” goes the Colditz-style klaxon in my head but I carry on, regardless. Since the first two are deleted that left me a choice of six.

      Stick Neil Diamond into Google and you will get a lot of fan sites waxing lyrical about how wonderful he is. Ok, so to give him his due, he comes across as a decent bloke with a sense of humour and he’s certainly not afraid to experiment with his music.... he’s also passionate about what he does, sometimes to the point where he can sound dreadfully thespy and pretentious about it. It’s quite a gift for any artist to be able to describe their genre without doing that so I’m happy to cut him a little slack. Personally, I tend to the view that he is a human being, a likeable one but not a god and that as such he is going to have the odd off day. I am well aware that the Spangly Lord’s portfolio is patchier than Patch the Dog, winner of Patchiest Patchy Pooch 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2006-9 elect. I want to read impartial, balanced accounts from sensible non-fans which will give me an idea as to where most of the turkeys are so I can avoid them. There aren’t many - cf my earlier comments, hence my efforts to redress the balance with this one.

      If you stick “Neil Diamond” into Amazon you will be treated to a list of several hundred items most of which are compilations. Once you know an album name to put in, though, the results are a lot more manageable - hence my inclusion of that album list - it’ll save you a couple of hours. That said, the non-greatest hits CDs are still mostly on US import. They do give you a list of tracks though and in some cases, an option to listen to an extract. However, on Amazon, despite attempting with two different browsers I can only listen to two excerpts before Real Player falls over on me and then I have to browse away from the page for an hour before returning to listen to two more. I don’t have the patience for this. There are reviews, too and although they are not always as impartial or detailed as I’d like you can usually get a vague feel for whether or not you’ll enjoy the album if there are more than one. I’m not a patient woman, so having made my choice, I want it NOW or at least, as close to now as is humanely possible. It’s not in my nature to wait 6 weeks for a US import.

      The solution to this is the Amazon Market Place. This is a godsend. It’s like Woolworths used to be. Chock full of music including many semi-rare or import-only albums and even better, you can get them ludicrously cheap so it doesn’t matter if they’re crap! I bought “Classics; the early years” for £3.45, Velvet Gloves and Spit.... ugh for £3.75 (it cost them $5 to send it) and Sweet Caroline from another seller for £4.50 both new and still shrink wrapped - even though they are written up as his first and second biggest turkeys from the pre ‘72 period. All three only took a week to arrive - the second two from Canada or the States - and the prices I quote here include postage.

      So... I’d finally tracked down a copy of a pukka album, from before 1972, which I could get straight away, by the Easy Listnin’ Lord Vader of Pop; Sweet Caroline. My copy is released by MCA.

      Mmm.... Tea and Sanatogen at the ready everybody? Right then, onto the album.

      What can I say? This album is from 1969 and is presented like just about every other album from that era - and believe me, I have enough of them to know. A soft focus picture of the man himself, name in big sans serif lettering with the titles of the four singles; two in orange, one in fuschia pink and one in um... moorish gold? Is that a cheesecloth shirt he’s wearing? Hmm... I fear it could be. Whatever it is, it’s cross between the Scarlet Pimpernel (good) and a smock (bad) but even as a child of the 80s who still wears a lot of crushed velvet AND her original New Romantic frilly shirts, it doesn’t work for me. He’s wearing some understated - for then - bling around the outside (oops) of the collar - a gold chain about the size you’d expect to see combined with a bath plug and he looks a bit fed up. Oh dear, is the whole album going to be Austin Powers Sings? I look at the track listing and fear that the answer will be a resounding yes.

      I look inside, for credits and more information, mainly because I would very much like to know the name of the musicians - for starters that excellent drummer who plays on all of the songs - is it a session band or are all instruments played by the Sequinned One, himeslf no less? I find nothing more than a track listing and a note of the producers. Another piece of very important information is missing, that is, who actually wrote each number. A second track listing on the actual CD, itself, does give you this information but I’d get very dizzy trying to read it while it was playing. In this instance - the Dark Lord and Master of All That is Spangly wrote them all - but it seems a glaring and somewhat cheapskate omission not to say this on the sleeve. Oh well, you can’t expect the earth for four quid can you but I can’t help wondering why MCA don’t tidy it up a bit, put the words in and maybe a better picture. It’s not wholly down to the picture, it’s splendidly of it’s era and you could get away with it if the rest of the design wasn’t so bad. It looks like it was done on Microsoft Word in the mid 1980s by a disgruntled temporary secretary using clip art. Shocking pink squares fading from light to dark arranged like bathroom tiles the “grout” comprising a reverse fade of the same dodgy pink. Everything about the design says “this album is crap”. If I bought it from a shop I’d have to find something seriously credible to buy it with - shallow, aren’t I? - And it’s a great, great pity because actually, this album is excellent - no, really. Like all his others, it’s very much of it’s era but approached with an open mind and a certain amount of realism, it’s one of the best five albums I’ve bought in 3 years. As you can imagine, nobody’s more surprised at that than me. Back to my first impressions though....

      The general consensus among the few non-gushy reviews of this album is that the whole thing is one monster 24lb Norfolk Bronze. After the single of Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show reached the top 40 Columbia stepped up the release date for the album and it was finished in a month. According to Diamondites it is therefore rushed and more like a jamming session than a full blown, properly produced album. Good, that means less chance of any over-produced, schmaltzy tracks. The actual song, Sweet Caroline, wasn’t on the original, Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show album, either but was tacked on in a later re-pressing, hence the change of name. The one useful review - on Epinions - was written by somebody who gave it a good score and was trying to be impartial but clearly hated it. Oh dear. I remove the shrink wrap with some trepidation.

      Mr Sweary does finally know that I like Neil Diamond - as of this morning - but I still couldn’t let him hear me listening to the Dark Lord of Easy Listening out loud - it’d be too embarrassing - so I wait until he has gone out before I dare to play the CD.

      For the most part, the atmosphere is relaxed and chilled. Six songs; Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show, And the Grass Won’t Pay No Mind, Glory Road, Memphis Streets, Your So Sweet Horseflies Keep Hanging Round Your Face (no really, that’s the title) and Sweet Caroline seem to be a more “finished” than the rest but I’m not necessarily convinced that’s because the others are a rush job. The remainder are no less polished, the performances, arrangements and instrumentation are equally melodious, there just aren’t as many layers, which makes them less slick but also more immediate. Any more embellishment and all that intimacy would either be lost or begin to feel manufactured. The resulting atmosphere is definitely casual but far too polished to be a session - it’s more like an un-plugged. Except that there is a liberal dash of brass and strings. Think Nelson Picket’s “Knock on Wood”, the Walker Brothers tracks like the Lennon McCartney “World Without Love” or Simon and Garfunkle - pretty much anything from “Bridge Over Troubled Water” rather than the “Sound of Silence” era though - it even reminds me of the kind of 60s sampling you’ll find on a modern chill out offering.

      Our Spangly friend is no mean folk guitarist and the band or Himself in over dubbed form, we don’t know, is, as excellent as ever and totally together. I have a mental image of them as bunch of guys who all look like the saxophonist out of the Muppets going “yo!” and “hey dude” and casually nodding their heads in time to the music as they play. They manage to create that air of casual spontaneity - as if they haven’t practised much but are so good and play together so often that winging it makes no difference.

      When it comes to the singer, himself, we’re at a point in his career when his voice is about as good as it gets, it feels more like an experiment, he’s not doing things he knows will work, he’s still at the stage where he’s trying things out and he’s still singing, not crooning. He’s not going to get an invitation to be poet laureate on the back of these lyrics but we’re still on the right side of the line between bad and sparse. The way he delivers the songs is very much a performance, like they’re part of a stage show and he’s playing a role, rather than singing as himeslf. It’s a technique which brings about a shift in viewpoint for the listener because the protagonist of the song is not them or the singer but a third party. It also shifts the emphasis, making for a stronger connection between singer and listener and promoting actual songs and the atmosphere created around each one to the main position of importance on this album - rather than the Artist.

      A lot of this album, on an emotional level, is about looking for things, a career, a purpose or just someone to love. Pretty much the human condition in a nutshell then. Setbacks are described from the point of view of somebody smart enough to be aware that these things, even if they feel like the end of the world now, are usually temporary. The realisation that the future will be brighter is always there and the realism no matter how gritty, heartrending or touching never becomes too bleak. I like that.

      The songs on the album still have that energy and fresh naive feel omnipresent in 60s pop but they also show some maturity. Overall, even in the up-beat numbers, Sweet Caroline has an introspective, mellow folk feel with a dash of soul (or 60s R‘n’B?) especially in backing vocals and brass for good measure. Despite this, the album, as a whole, is the aural equivalent of taking a long hot bath with a glass of brandy bobbing about beside you and a really good book to read; hot tap dripping to keep the water temperature up, essential oils, the works... There are plenty of up-tempo choons which will have you bopping around the room (so don’t listen to it in the bath or you’ll make a godawful mess) and one strangely out of place comedy piece but the overall effect, is chilled and introspective leaving this listener feeling very relaxed at the end - hence the bath analogy. Laid back to the point of being horizontal.

      Is there a high cheese quotient? Oh come on! Look. These songs are from 1969. What do you think? Of course there’s an element of the cheesy, theatrical, melodramatic and down right over the top in them! “And the Grass Won’t Pay no Mind” is on there for starters. Me I’m a complete drama queen though, I love all that! The lyrics do the job and the melodies are just great, catchier than a room full of velcro hooks - you won’t get them out of your head for days, weeks possibly. A hint of future easy listening darkness creeping in here but nothing too scary and it’s all the right side of self-indulgent schmaltz.


      The reason I chose to buy this album to start with was because I love this song. It’s a classic piece of theatre and because it’s a vignette, rather than a message you, too, can get into character and join in. A hint of a Neil Sedaka hiccup to the voice in places excellent base and spot on drumming. A tip top track!
      SCORE: 9/10

      2. DIG IT
      An amazing vocal range in this one - I mean in terms of sound rather than high and low notes - they come later on “If I Never Knew Your Name”. Lush, melting singing and instrumentation. Everything’s soft. There’s a point towards the end where it’s difficult to tell the difference between the voice and the accompaniment. Seriously impressive. Catchy blues tune, up-beat and totally mellow. Shades of Donavon maybe? But much more sexy. Not hey ladieeeees listen to me, in yer face sexy, mind. It’s more about how the person is supposed to be feeling in the song. Warbly wurlitzer in there too and background - but very background - whoops, yehahs and a strange little squeak which puts me in mind of an animated gerbil with hiccups. The laid-back simplicity of this track sets the tone for the rest of the CD.
      SCORE: 7/10

      Fantastic sixties-tastic drum beat - think “Stars” by Dubstar, very funky and very tricky to execute I’d guess but not sampled, played on the spot - staccato chords from that Wurlitzer again - the kind of Wurlitzer you’d hear at an American ice hockey game. The guitar break is shipped in from Crossroads but I don’t care. Simon and Garfunkle folksy style la-ing which is just too unbelievably catchy for words. Again, great delivery with that way he has of getting into “character” for a song. The gist of the song is somebody talking about how wonderful his girl is and speculating as to why on earth she’s hanging out with him. As I listen, I start thinking all sorts of soppy rubbish about how much I luuuuurve Mr Sweary. While I cook supper, I play it on my iPod and am bopping round the kitchen la-ing away for England when Mr Sweary creeps up behind me, unheard, and dispels all loving thoughts in an instant by leaning round and pressing a freezing cold milk carton against my cheek. The scream of shock is audible three streets away.
      SCORE: 9/10 - even WITH the milk carton.

      4. JULIET
      “We can make an echo on it” says somebody into my left ear at the beginning (amongst other things) and halfway through despite the fact not a whisper can be heard thus far, somebody else yells “quiet” and a few bars later “shush!” Dangermouse style. Perhaps this is where all the “session” complaints come from. Classic dingly folk guitar work, more na-na-ing in a Simon and Garfunkle kind of way. Slightly cliched words - “Turn your eyes on me girl. Wandering round inside a grown man no more than a small boy, sweet Juliet...” Well we all know that’s true of most chaps but as a lady I feel he’s pandering to my prejudices about the opposite half the world’s population. Then again, if Mr Sweary admitted such a thing to me I’d think it sweet, so it might be disarming honesty. The band from Crossroads Motel haven’t gone home either. The guitar solo has less of the twang than the one in River Runs... but it’s still there. That said, it’s a great song simply arranged, just guitar, piano, drums and is it moog? Whatever it is they called a synthesiser in those days - judging by the images it conjures up in my mind’s eye the correct phrase “electronic organ” is not necessarily the right one for the modern age. More liquid melody I have to drop everything I’m doing to listen to it properly and relax accordingly.
      SCORE: 7/10

      5. LONG GONE
      An understated country and western twang to the bass and drums here. Some Buddy Holly/early Beatles style clapping and a half Buddy half Neil Sedaka style of vocal delivery. Guitar solo with that “Let it Be” style wobble - I haven’t been able to discover what the technical term for it is. It’s not as out and out energy packed as your average Buddy Holly single but then, this is mellower - something you’d imagine being played sat under a tree in the park on a Saturday afternoon rather than jumping about on stage, there is energy there, though and it’s catchy, to boot. Good but not one of the greats.
      SCORE: 6/10

      6. AND THE GRASS WON’T PAY NO MIND... (sometimes it’s STARS but the majority consensus seems to be GRASS)
      This is the hardest of hard-core “Austin Powers sings...” I’ve heard from Mr Diamond’s oeuvre so far. It’s cheese with cheese on top but I still love it. The band are about as perfectly together as a band gets, I love the way the drums come in, the cheesy singing girls - think 70s porn. The words....? Don’t go there. "My lips touch you with their soft wet kisses, your hands gentle in reply..." Blimey oh reilley! Copious Sweary giggling! Gosh! Don't listen to it with a full bladder. The whole song is so.... Timotei (those of you old enough to remember those grim, grim ads will know what I mean). It’s so uncool I’d like to think that one day it’ll be trendy again but then I’d also like to think Captain Scarlet is a real person. It’s utterly dodgy and I’ll never, ever be able to listen to it in front of anybody else, ever but that doesn’t stop it from being one of my favourites and a great track.
      SCORE: 9/10

      7. GLORY ROAD
      Pure Simon and Garfunkle style folk but more produced and polished. Sweet, melodious arrangement which stops just short enough of the sugar zone to stand up to repeated...er... repeating. Fab. It’s deep, too and I identify with it. Potential to become a Sweary desert island disk. More mellowness, by the end of the song, I’m not even sure who I am. I could zone out for hours to this.
      SCORE: 9.999999/10.... no, really.

      Jolly, cheerful, rollicking number full of the joys of spring! It’s about the novelty stage at the beginning of a relationship when you wake up with your beau and suddenly realise they’re there and that... well.... one thing is going to lead to another before you even get up and you’re to be going round secretly feeling smug, self satisfied, a little bit naughty and more to the point, shagged senseless, for the rest of the day. More wurlitzer, a smattering of Knock on Wood style brass, soul/Commitments-style background singers and the usual high quality drums. As I cruise the aisles of Waitrose I can’t help putting an extra skip into my step in time to the beat. “You’ve obviously listening to something catchy” says the lady on the checkout. I don’t tell her what it is but I do admit that I am having to use every ounce of self control I possess not to sing.
      SCORE: 8/10

      Sounds as if it should be part of a movie soundtrack. I want to sit down and write a chick-flick to go with it. Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts should be kissing - or tiffing - or making up - to this. The vocal range on this thing is all over the shop - and this time I do mean high and low notes - from keening, almost falsetto, down to hmm... would we call it Baritone? It’s not bass but it sounds very deep contrasted with the high bits. For the most part, it’s bang on. A chick song this one - an unashamed “one for the ladies”. There’s no doubt, at this stage in his career at any rate, that The Spangly One is the Percy Dovetonsils of pop, something inside me is melting. Oh dear, I hope it doesn’t make a mess on the carpet.
      SCORE: 8/10

      So much movement in this one you have to get up and walk about. Packed full of energy, the Dovetonsils technique put firmly aside for a far more gravelly, robust style of singing which I much prefer. Think “Green Onions” by Booker T and the MGs for the predominant rhythm. Listen out for the little peep from a trumpet at the beginning, just the right tone and volume to make you think of a distant beep in traffic. Instantly zooms the mind’s eye in on an image of New York streets - despite the fact this is meant to be Memphis. More na-nahing as I skip around the kitchen looking warily over my shoulder for Mr Sweary and the ice cold milk carton!
      SCORE: 9/10

      Neil Diamond does a Country and Western parody and does it very well, too except... what’s it doing here? A good ol’ Kentucky boy describing his lady friend. It all starts off fairly normal but as the song progresses we discover she has no front teeth (great for kissing ... ah you’d better believe it yuk!), compares favourably to his dog (and that’s going some) and can wrestle bulls to the ground by looking at them. In short, a lady who has clearly had a liberal beating with the Ugly Stick - are the horseflies there because she’s sweet we ask ourselves or is it something to do with her looks? This is more Billy Connolly than Neil Diamond but I have to hand it to him, he can do humour.

      This type of novelty track is not unusual for the 60s but at the same time it’s unexpected on this album. In some respects it ties in with the general tone but overall it doesn’t fit and it’s not even the last track! I know the Beatles did “Lovely Rita,” “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, ” “Bungalow Bill” and the like but there was an underlying sharpness. I suspect there is a hint of bitterness or at least frustration behind Mr Diamond’s decision to pen this one.... In a song called “New York Boy”, on the other album he released that year, “Touching You Touching Me” he points out that he didn’t expect to be greeted with open arms in the Deep South but at the same time, if he doesn’t go on at them for eating grits, saying you’all the whole time and talking really slowly could they please just shut up about his sideburns and long hair for five minutes. Paraphrased but that’s the basic gist. The difference, of course, is that the Beatles are the Beatles and Neil Diamond is the Dark Lord of the Spangly Sith, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t work on here and it probably did in those days when he was still considered a sex god and had not Cliff Richardised - no even today’s Mr Spangly isn’t that uncool - but it doesn’t now. I now understand why the Beatles kept You Know My Name (Look up the number) on the B side of Let it Be.
      SCORE: 6/10 for the song 0/10 for the positioning.

      More melodrama - what should be inoffensive guitar plucking under the verses somehow serves to give a sense of restlessness, confinement and angst - especially where it takes off into the middle eight. The drums are there but the rhythm is led by the guitar with nothing else but a 12 string rhythm accompaniment, all acoustic. Lots of emotional angst in the vocal delivery, too but nothing overdone and it all adds weight to the fraught atmosphere of the song. Quality.
      SCORE: 8/10

      13. SWEET CAROLINE (Good Times Never Seemed So Good).
      Oh yes! Bring on the Cheese! “Hands, touching hands... reaching out touching me touching you!” Which commutes later in the song to “warm... touching warm” Mmmm! He gives it some serious vocal wellington but not without giving an impression of forethought and control. This is one of those songs I’ve heard so many times that I’ve never really listened to it properly. When I do I can see why it was a single. Personally, I don’t think it’s the best song on the album but the arrangement has some great touches, things you don’t notice at first listen. Like the understated bingly glokenschpeil chipping in behind the chorus or shimmery strings (I used to play Bach concertos on the violin but that doesn’t mean I have any idea what the technical term for “lots of very short notes” is) behind the hands touching hands bit which immediately puts me in mind of that butterflies thing you get when you’re about to kiss somebody you really, really “fancy” for the first time - you know, the one that feels as if somebody with industrial rubber gloves on is wringing out your intestines.
      SCORE: 7/10

      Why didn’t he make more albums like this one? Why aren’t all his albums like this one? And what makes this particular one so good? Perhaps it’s Mr Spangly’s ability to be generic and find common ground with his listeners. Even when he’s singing about situations I have never been in I find myself thinking... ah yes, I know that feeling. Perhaps it’s the combination of a unique and personal style with a strong personality and a lack of ego - the songs being the most important thing. Putting the words aside, is it because he has a knack for arranging his music in a way that will tap into my emotions?

      Could it be that I’m finally sliding down the slippery slope into middle age but then... no... the bulk of my music collection is still, on today’s terms, quite trendy... er hem... for a 37 year old....

      For all his cheesiness, even his biggest detractors would have to concede that the Spangly One possesses masses of creative flair and is not afraid to use it. In fact he bandies it about with such casual abundance you can’t but be impressed. Even when sections of material display a common influence or theme, styles are seldom repeated without development. The drumming on the up-beat numbers is an obvious area where this lateral application of variety shows most. Many match but no two are the same. The results of his labours do not always work - some of them really are barking - but when they do, they truly hit the spot for me in a way that has only previously been achieved by my all time favourite artists; The Beatles, Pink Floyd and the delightfully quirky Neil Hannon (the Divine Comedy).

      Mr Diamond’s vocal delivery in these early works is similarly creative and dynamic. As he growls and purrs his way through the songs he imbues them with just the right amounts of angst, emotion or rugged gravelly power. They appear to be delivered with effortless ease, an effect which can only be created with a great deal of discipline and pitch-perfect control as any musician will tell you. Worryingly, I suspect I would cheerfully commit genocide for a voice like this... I am ashamed to admit that there are moments when, despite protestations from the sensible, logical part of my brain and my keen awareness of the Spangly One’s current place at the bottom of the pile of all that is credible in pop - his dulcet tones reduce my insides to liquid.

      For all his many flaws, there is no denying the man has talent. Oodles of it - even if what he does with it can be a rather varied and challenging listen. As I have no doubt said before, a musician’s musician, perhaps. However, in all seriousness, if you were going to buy one non-compilation album by Neil Diamond this is the one to go for. Touching You Touching Me, its successor, is no less worthy of your attention but it is more of a tribute album - half the tracks are covers. The great thing about Sweet Caroline is that our Spangly Friend has penned every song on here himself and that means you get to see just how good that is. A fine effort from an era when he was a credible songwriter at his creative peak.

      Final Score: A cheesy but surprisingly credible 8/10 - 9 if, like me, you appreciate ‘60s music and cheese with a bit of extra cheese on the side and some more cheese on top...
      Recommended for: Anyone who likes melodious, sing along songs or 1960s pop. Anyone eccentric with eclectic musical tastes - people who still enjoy listening to the Wombles, for instance.
      Purchased from: Amazon marketplace £4.50
      Also available from: Pukka Amazon for £8.99 but with a 6 week wait.
      Amazon Marketplace: 5 new from £2.66, 2 used from £4.34 - these prices don’t include postage which is usually around £1.24

      Sources/prices as of 14 Feb 2006. Be warned, they may change.

      Thanks for reading mateys!




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