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Even the trendiest, most tasteful person has their blind spot. I wasnt 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. Its 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 - Im still in shock - I decided to see if I could track down some of the Spangly Ones 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 Ones 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 Ive 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 arent 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, its just as likely to be aural hell although therell 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 Diamonds original albums on the internet and since Ive 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 dont have to.
I am going to be reviewing the first and so far the best of the CDs Ive bought by the Dark Lord of the Spangly Sith - the album formerly known as Brother Loves 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, youll need to be armed with a whole host of information, which I am going to have to include, or you wont 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. Thats where I start talking about the album in earnest.
BACKGROUND INFO (FACTOIDS SECTION)
Needless to say, I have sourced most of this information from my handy research tool, the internet.
If you are going to avoid Mr Diamonds 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 Loves 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 Ive 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 OConnor and as previously mentioned, some of its 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 dont 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 isnt 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). Theyre 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 Ones 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 Id deem some of them best swept discreetly under the carpet and left there. Sadly, even though the record company hes 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.
OK THEN, I ALREADY HAVE A NEIL DIAMOND GREATEST HITS COMPILATION AND NOW, HEAVEN HELP ME, I WANT TO LISTEN TO ONE OF HIS ACTUAL ALBUMS. WHERE CAN I GET ONE?
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 wont 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 theyd admit it. There was the ex boss, but he wasnt 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 hes certainly not afraid to experiment with his music.... hes also passionate about what he does, sometimes to the point where he can sound dreadfully thespy and pretentious about it. Its quite a gift for any artist to be able to describe their genre without doing that so Im 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 Lords 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 arent 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 - itll 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 dont have the patience for this. There are reviews, too and although they are not always as impartial or detailed as Id like you can usually get a vague feel for whether or not youll enjoy the album if there are more than one. Im not a patient woman, so having made my choice, I want it NOW or at least, as close to now as is humanely possible. Its 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. Its 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 doesnt matter if theyre 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... Id 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 hes wearing? Hmm... I fear it could be. Whatever it is, its 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 doesnt work for me. Hes wearing some understated - for then - bling around the outside (oops) of the collar - a gold chain about the size youd 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 Id 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 cant expect the earth for four quid can you but I cant help wondering why MCA dont tidy it up a bit, put the words in and maybe a better picture. Its not wholly down to the picture, its splendidly of its era and you could get away with it if the rest of the design wasnt 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 Id have to find something seriously credible to buy it with - shallow, arent I? - And its a great, great pity because actually, this album is excellent - no, really. Like all his others, its very much of its era but approached with an open mind and a certain amount of realism, its one of the best five albums Ive bought in 3 years. As you can imagine, nobodys 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 Loves 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, wasnt on the original, Brother Loves 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 couldnt let him hear me listening to the Dark Lord of Easy Listening out loud - itd be too embarrassing - so I wait until he has gone out before I dare to play the CD.
OK, WHATS IT LIKE?
For the most part, the atmosphere is relaxed and chilled. Six songs; Brother Loves Travelling Salvation Show, And the Grass Wont Pay No Mind, Glory Road, Memphis Streets, Your So Sweet Horseflies Keep Hanging Round Your Face (no really, thats the title) and Sweet Caroline seem to be a more finished than the rest but Im not necessarily convinced thats because the others are a rush job. The remainder are no less polished, the performances, arrangements and instrumentation are equally melodious, there just arent 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 - its more like an un-plugged. Except that there is a liberal dash of brass and strings. Think Nelson Pickets 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 youll 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 dont 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 havent practised much but are so good and play together so often that winging it makes no difference.
When it comes to the singer, himself, were at a point in his career when his voice is about as good as it gets, it feels more like an experiment, hes not doing things he knows will work, hes still at the stage where hes trying things out and hes still singing, not crooning. Hes not going to get an invitation to be poet laureate on the back of these lyrics but were still on the right side of the line between bad and sparse. The way he delivers the songs is very much a performance, like theyre part of a stage show and hes playing a role, rather than singing as himeslf. Its 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 RnB?) 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 dont listen to it in the bath or youll 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 theres an element of the cheesy, theatrical, melodramatic and down right over the top in them! And the Grass Wont Pay no Mind is on there for starters. Me Im 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 wont 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 its all the right side of self-indulgent schmaltz.
1. BROTHER LOVES TRAVELLING SALVATION SHOW.
The reason I chose to buy this album to start with was because I love this song. Its a classic piece of theatre and because its 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!
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. Everythings soft. Theres a point towards the end where its 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. Its 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.
3. RIVER RUNS, NEW GROWN PLUMS
Fantastic sixties-tastic drum beat - think Stars by Dubstar, very funky and very tricky to execute Id guess but not sampled, played on the spot - staccato chords from that Wurlitzer again - the kind of Wurlitzer youd hear at an American ice hockey game. The guitar break is shipped in from Crossroads but I dont 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 shes 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.
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 thats true of most chaps but as a lady I feel hes pandering to my prejudices about the opposite half the worlds population. Then again, if Mr Sweary admitted such a thing to me Id think it sweet, so it might be disarming honesty. The band from Crossroads Motel havent gone home either. The guitar solo has less of the twang than the one in River Runs... but its still there. That said, its 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 minds eye the correct phrase electronic organ is not necessarily the right one for the modern age. More liquid melody I have to drop everything Im doing to listen to it properly and relax accordingly.
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 havent been able to discover what the technical term for it is. Its not as out and out energy packed as your average Buddy Holly single but then, this is mellower - something youd 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 its catchy, to boot. Good but not one of the greats.
6. AND THE GRASS WONT PAY NO MIND... (sometimes its STARS but the majority consensus seems to be GRASS)
This is the hardest of hard-core Austin Powers sings... Ive heard from Mr Diamonds oeuvre so far. Its 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....? Dont 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). Its so uncool Id like to think that one day itll be trendy again but then Id also like to think Captain Scarlet is a real person. Its utterly dodgy and Ill never, ever be able to listen to it in front of anybody else, ever but that doesnt stop it from being one of my favourites and a great track.
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. Its deep, too and I identify with it. Potential to become a Sweary desert island disk. More mellowness, by the end of the song, Im not even sure who I am. I could zone out for hours to this.
SCORE: 9.999999/10.... no, really.
8. DEEP IN THE MORNING
Jolly, cheerful, rollicking number full of the joys of spring! Its about the novelty stage at the beginning of a relationship when you wake up with your beau and suddenly realise theyre there and that... well.... one thing is going to lead to another before you even get up and youre 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 cant help putting an extra skip into my step in time to the beat. Youve obviously listening to something catchy says the lady on the checkout. I dont 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.
9. IF I NEVER KNEW YOUR NAME
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? Its not bass but it sounds very deep contrasted with the high bits. For the most part, its bang on. A chick song this one - an unashamed one for the ladies. Theres 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 doesnt make a mess on the carpet.
10. MEMPHIS STREETS
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 minds 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!
11. YOUR SO SWEET, HORSEFLIES KEEP HANGIN ROUND YOUR FACE
Neil Diamond does a Country and Western parody and does it very well, too except... whats 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 youd better believe it yuk!), compares favourably to his dog (and thats 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 shes 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 its unexpected on this album. In some respects it ties in with the general tone but overall it doesnt fit and its not even the last track! I know the Beatles did Lovely Rita, Maxwells 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 Diamonds 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 didnt expect to be greeted with open arms in the Deep South but at the same time, if he doesnt go on at them for eating grits, saying youall the whole time and talking really slowly could they please just shut up about his sideburns and long hair for five minutes. Paraphrased but thats 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, theres no reason why it shouldnt 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 todays Mr Spangly isnt that uncool - but it doesnt 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.
12. HURTIN YOU DONT COME EASY
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.
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 Ive heard so many times that Ive never really listened to it properly. When I do I can see why it was a single. Personally, I dont think its the best song on the album but the arrangement has some great touches, things you dont 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 doesnt 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 youre 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.
Why didnt he make more albums like this one? Why arent all his albums like this one? And what makes this particular one so good? Perhaps its Mr Spanglys ability to be generic and find common ground with his listeners. Even when hes singing about situations I have never been in I find myself thinking... ah yes, I know that feeling. Perhaps its 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 Im finally sliding down the slippery slope into middle age but then... no... the bulk of my music collection is still, on todays 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 cant 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 Diamonds 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 Ones 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 musicians 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 dont include postage which is usually around £1.24
Sources/prices as of 14 Feb 2006. Be warned, they may change.
Thanks for reading mateys!