Review Summary: Varied and enjoyable, Home Before Dark is an album dripping with emotion that is anchored together with a fantastic production job that unfortunately could do with losing ten minutes of running time to sweeten the deal.
There are not many artists that can claim to have had as successful and lasting a career as that of American singer Neil Diamond. His outings in music have now spanned more than forty five years, yielding countless awards, nearly unparalleled fame and over 100 million albums sold. It is therefore quite insane to think that so many years after the release of hits such as Beautiful Noise, Play Me and Sweet Caroline, Neil is still capable of putting out a solid release, but he more than proved this with Home Before Dark. This is one artist whom time does not seem to affect, as his voice is still as powerful as ever and the instrumental performance backing him on his 2008 release is absolutely stellar. This is not an album to be missed out on.
Neil Diamond has a habit of rarely flooding his albums with filler, and instead would rather have all the songs remain listenable without ever compromising the integrity of the album. This is a trend that has continued with his twenty seventh studio album. If I Don't See You Again is a beautiful, mellow opener that spans seven minutes in length and will drop a listener's jaw all the way through. From there to the end of the album, this is nothing more than a string of emotionally intense, perfectly written compositions that will amaze you time and time again. Pretty Amazing Grace is probably the most straight-forward rock number on here, with a great chorus fueled by a magnificently performed acoustic guitar and the lyrics are great and heart warming.
The title track is an absolutely amazing track, arguably one of his strongest to date, and shows just how time hasn't really affected Neil. This song closes off the album, and has some really deep and thought provoking lyrics as well as the best vocals on the album. During the chorus you may well feel a tear begin to roll down your cheek at how much emotion he pours into it despite the fact he is well into his 60's, and this can only be a good thing. Another highlight would be the shortest song on the album, entitled Whose Hands Are These. Once again, the lyrics are top notch and the fact that it is considerably shorter than the other tracks only works to its benefit.
The one problem that holds Home Before Dark back from the awe-inspiring greatness that Neil's previous work held is the fact that some of the songs drag on for too long. All of them have something great and praise-worthy about them, but there is no need for songs such as Another Day That Time Forgot and One More Bite Of The Apple to clock in at over six minutes. The songs are not crazily long, and many of them are shorter than five minutes, but the fact that the first half of the album is so infested with songs of this length really does nothing for its staying power. Don't Go There has to be the most annoying track here, aside from Neil's ultra-low pitched voice singing the titular words (which is incredible to hear) and has nothing really of merit. The fact that this clocks in at over an hour may not sound too disturbing, but when the first few songs are this long (by Diamond standards) you know there is going to be something wrong with it.
The instrumentals are very well put together here, carrying much more of a progressive feel than before. Gone is the more upbeat feel of songs such as Headed For The Future and in their place is more of a folk sound than anything he has done before. Pretty Amazing Grace feels somewhat of a return to the nature of tracks like Cracklin' Rosie, with its quicker style during the chorus, whilst the use of pianos on certain songs really adds a new dimension to them. If I Don't See You Again is quite a slow, plodding number that would rather hinge around the amount of emotions from the vocals than go for the throat with a great instrumental, and this really works surprisingly well. Couple this with an ultra smooth production job from Rick Rubin, giving this album the shot in the arm it really needs, and you have a considerably strong Neil Diamond release, arguably better than anything he had put out in years.