Ben Harper is back again with Diamonds on the Inside
. If you haven’t heard of this guy before, picture rock and funk, with an occasional blend of metal. He is a very talented customer; he possesses soft, soulful vocals, and is no lout on the guitar. He can also play bass, drums, and percussion making him a much sought after and versatile musician. Perhaps Ben Harper’s weakest link however is that his voice has a very limited range, and sometimes is too
soft. "Touch from your Lust" is a very dodgy affair – it is rather directionless, and Ben just murmurs along; never being truly audible until the end. "When She Believes" is another quite mediocre track, which remains to be quite short on ideas. It drags on for over 5 minutes, and it has no catchy hooks or memorable vocal melodies. It does however incorporate the cello, violin and trumpet quite effortlessly into the music which goes to show that while the song may not be that great, at least Ben Harper is experimenting with his sound.
The bass is definitely a highlight of Diamonds on the Inside (DOTI). Juan D. Nelson keeps everything together on numerous songs on the album, coming up with some unique, groovy basslines. He is excellent on "With my Own Two Hands"; while Ben Harper’s guitar work on this particular song is lackluster to say the least, Nelson provides the listener with some ear candy which pushes the track to the end. The drum fills do not go by unnoticed either; in this genre of music, drummers remain quite restricted with their playing, as going at insane speeds and pounding away at the double pedals would be laughably out of place in a funk album. However, he still manages to stand out, and provide the listener with some interesting fills. "Picture of Jesus" has become a generally accepted song. It is a nice idea, being completely vocally driven; there are no guitars, bass or drums to be heard here. However, it looses credibility at the end, as it goes on for too long and is once again a little too short on ideas to support its long duration. (5:46 minutes to be exact.) It still manages to pass by as reasonably good, as the religious lyrics are well written and suit the music perfectly.
The tracklisting needs to be mentioned here, for I consider it to be a little disappointing. After listening to DOTI from start to finish, it came to my attention that all the good songs were crammed into the second half of the album. With the exception of the infamous title track, (a slow, acoustic number dominated by vocals and guitars), and parts of With my Own Two Hands, the first 25 minutes of the album is not only skippable, but virtually unmemorable. As a result of this, some listeners may dismiss the album due to its slow start. It is not till track 7, "Bring the Funk" that we actually see the album getting somewhere. This song is really quite excellent; it doesn’t take itself seriously, with its juvenile lyrics of doing just that – bringing the funk, and it contains some more top class bass work from Nelson. "Amen Omen" remains my favorite track to be found here though; Ben Harper is at his absolute best. The song is mainly driven by acoustics and piano, and it contains a truly classic chorus, where Ben softly sings: 'Amen Omen/will I see your face again/Amen Omen/Can I find a place within/to live my life without you.' It is bound to get stuck in your head, and this number actually grows on you more and more with repeated listens.
The 'occasional blend of metal' that I touched on earlier comes in the form of the two brutal songs, "Temporary Remedy" and "So High So Low". They are at tracks 10 and 11 respectively, and are a good change of pace and tempo from the slowness of the majority of DOTI. But it is "Blessed to be a Witness" which takes the prize of being the second best song on the album. Once again returning to the more slow sound, the tribal like drumming and stunning vocal work keeps this song gripping from start to finish. The bass and guitars take a back seat, while emphasis is placed on the percussion, vocals, and lyrics. Overall I would say Ben Harper has never sounded better on this song, and the rest of his fellow band members respond in kind.
So to conclude, this album takes a while to digest, and will be dismissed by many listeners due to its slow start. However, dig beneath the surface and you will find a lot to enjoy here. Ben Harper is not held in such high regard for no reason, and this album, (for the most part) does justice to his talent.
Blessed to be a Witness
Bring the Funk
Touch from your Lust
When she Believes
When It’s Good