There are some things you never expect. Take, for example, this Neil Diamond
release. One could say it aims to attract fans of film songs who can tolerate
Diamond's voice. Another could say it aims to attract fans of Diamond who
can tolerate film songs. It does not matter.
Admittedly, Diamond's vocals are an acquired taste, and he does sometimes
falter on this 2CD set from Columbia Records. After a grand introduction
composed by Elmer Bernstein, Diamond exceeds expectations with a classic
rendition of 'As Time Goes By.' He holds onto that high until 'Can You Feel
The Love Tonight,' at which point he succumbs to gross melodrama. This
unfortunate trend continues off-and-on over the course of both discs. Concerning
the most popular song on the compilation, his interpretation of the insipid
'My Heart Will Go On' is more skilled than that of Celine Dion (though the
over-emphatic phrasing appears here as well), and Jeremy Lubbock deserves
kudos for writing as intelligent and original an arrangement of the song
as humanly possible. Other songs that fair best under Diamond's voice are
'Love With the Proper Stranger,' 'When You Wish Upon a Star,' 'Ebb Tide,'
'True Love,' and perhaps 'Ruby.'
Apart from the vocalist, the disc features a skilled team of film musicians.
Die-hard filmusic aficionados will spot many familiar names in the orchestra
and production notes. Elmer Bernstein conducts with precision, and the
instrumentalists play their hearts out.
The arrangements by Jonathan Tunick, William Ross, Jeremy Lubbock, Elmer
Bernstein & Jon A. Kull, Alan Lindgren, Patrick Williams, Tom Hensley,
and Jorge Calandrelli range wildly from clever harmonies to overbearing
monstrosities. Tunick and Lubbock present the music in top form; ignoring
the lamentable 'Puttin' On the Ritz,' Ross does as well. Every one of Lindren's
arrangements goes for empty technique and cheap dramatics.
The selection of songs places emphasis on ballads, so the music bounces without
ever getting much above the metaphorical trampoline. It needs the sparkling
inclusion of something extraordinary to divide the sameness. A sense of fun
is all but excised. Now, who would not secretly enjoy a Neil Diamond version
of 'Ewok Celebration' from "Return of the Jedi"...
The production is classy, with some great photographs from the recording
sessions and of Diamond. Columbia recorded the album at the Alfred Newman
Scoring Stage on the Twentieth Century Fox studio lot, and the sound is
appropriately mixed in a manner which recalls classic Hollywood (without
the deterioration). It is crisp, clear, but somewhat distant. Diamond wrote
his own humorously effusive liner notes.
It is an enjoyable disc and a sure filmusic novelty, but its hits are only
slightly more obvious than its misses.