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Neil Diamond: Three Chord Opera


Neil Diamond

Album: Three Chord Opera
Label: Columbia

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Occasionally referred to, in seriousness and in jest, as the Jewish Elvis, Neil Diamond is actually more like Rod Stewart: Both artists' careers started hot out of the gate, then opted for a long, slow, dull cruise. Trading in the undeniable highs of his early work—the best of which balanced joyous bombast with pop craftsmanship—Diamond has spent the better part of three decades as a caricature of himself. Having learned the profitability of shameless, over-the-top showmanship, he made a fortune out of pitching to the rafters, in concert and on his albums. He must have some regrets. With so many sources treating him as kitsch, from the film Saving Silverman to folk singer Phranc's occasional drag tributes, Diamond must know that he can't deny the label. Stewart clearly has his own regrets, his recent albums attempting to reconcile himself to the promise he abandoned long ago, and Diamond's latest seems to attempt a similar feat. His first album of new material in five years, Three Chord Opera, contains unfiltered Diamond: no film-song covers, no trendy flirtations with contemporary Nashville. Does it make a difference? Not much. The title says it all: Part simplicity, part unwieldy ambition, Three Chord Opera features pop songs that pay tribute to Hollywood ("At The Movies"), children ("Elijah's Song"), and divinity ("Leave A Little Room For God"). While the lack of pandering is admirable, the material is at best dull, at worst unintentionally amusing. "By the time he finally wins the fight / we're eatin' popcorn at the speed of light," Diamond sings on "At The Movies." Brian Wilson might be able to pull off that kind of naiveté, but the knowing throatiness of Diamond's voice doesn't allow it. After all this time, it's nice to know that the man who penned "Sweet Caroline" still cares, but it's sad to recognize how little that matters.