With the 2005 album 12 Songs, Rick Rubin took Neil Diamond on as the latest in a long line of back-to-basics career reinvigorations. Though not a classic along the lines of Johnny Cash’s American Recordings, that album and the Diamond/Rubin team’s 2008 follow-up, Home Before Dark, reminded listeners of the Diamond beneath the years of schmaltz, a seriously talented songwriter with a voice like nobody else’s. Ignoring last year’s A Cherry Cherry Christmas—and why wouldn’t you?—the new Dreams feels like the third part of the trilogy, even though Rubin isn’t in the picture, and Diamond sticks to covers while saving new originals for the next outing. It’s spare and tasteful and finds Diamond in good voice. It’s also largely forgettable.
There isn’t a bad song—well, apart from “Alone Again (Naturally)”—or a tacky arrangement on the album, but the material suffers from excessive familiarity. Did the world need another version of “Desperado,” “Yesterday,” or especially Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”? The best moments come from unexpected takes on classics like a slow-burning rendition of “Midnight Train To Georgia” and an unusually relaxed version of “I’m A Believer,” a song written by some kid named Diamond back in the ’60s. Better still, two Randy Newman songs and a fine take on Harry Nilsson’s “Don’t Forget Me.” Diamond Sings Newman And Nilsson—now that would be an album worth buying.