Hot August Night
Released: December 1972
Chart Peak: #5
Weeks Charted: 78
Certified Gold: 12/23/72
He sho is hip, ain't he? Neil Diamond's metamorphosis from a simple short-haired rock pop hitmaker into one of the heaviest dudes on the planet, a force of international magnitude, has been accomplished with all the grace to which true superstars are heir. Come what may, Neil did it his way. Just look at this album: A zero cool deluxe two-record set with pages inside and everything, the true document of Neil's historic concert last summer under the stars of the best city in America, Los Angeles, which is a real stronghold of Diamond fandom. They're hooked, they can't help it, and no wonder when you look at the way the man carries himself and the trappings he swaddles his soul and product in.
Attending the release of this sluice of ultimorgasmic sounds from Meister D. is some of the grooviest garnish this side of a Melanie presskit. Here on the very front cover is Neil in full flight, working it on out, and what is he doing? Pretending to jerk off, that's what. He's pantomiming whanging his clanger, and from the look on his face I'd say he's about to shoot off, and the only bogus part is that he'd like everybody to think it's 13 inches long. It's truly a pic to post in your den or rec room for years to come, no matter what some o' them psychedelic shmucks with their Hawkwind nightshade garlands might think; you don't even need a black light, and it's great to spill beer on or throw your girlfriend up against in the party's latter leagues.
The music on Hot August Night is a fine presentation of the entire spectrum of the Diamond oeuvre, from "Solitary Man" to "Song Sung Blue." It's great, pretentious, goofy pop. Neil has always had a marvelously evocative, hymn-like quality, but it's pure Hollywood reverence, and he really should get a gig writing soundtracks. Which is no putdown. There's always been a place for good corn and good pomp too. This set opens with a mighty orchestral flourish fit to put both Elvis and David Bowie to shame. And when it comes to hamming it up, Neil's one of the few who can actually outdo Elvis, as in the introduction to "Morningside": "This is a dream... a dream about an old man who dies alone... and leaves a gift behind..."
- Lester Bangs, Rolling Stone, 3/15/73.
Knocking Neil Diamond appears to be the major leisure-time activity of most reviewers. I agree with them on artistic grounds; but what seems to infuriate them -- although not me -- the most is his ability to play to S.R.O. audiences no matter where he appears. Packing the Winter Garden on Broadway, as he did during a recent run, immediately sent the critical arrows flying, with no noticeable effect at the box office. This live album is taken from another Diamond concert during his run at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. His audience of 4,500 is obviously rapturous as he sings and plays his way through more than twenty songs, and the evening builds to a real personal triumph. I'd like to say that I was as swept up by the recording, but no way.
It's pointless to nit-pick about a popular phenomenon on the scale of Neil Diamond. My only explanation for his success is that he functions more as a transmitter of several current musical styles, sifted through a fudgelike mass-cult sentimentality, than as a creator. Granted, he writes very listenable songs and his performances are well-crafted, but they lack the spark of truly contemporary musical reality. They come across in much the same way that "Hair" did as it explained what the counter-culture was supposedly about in palatable commercial terms; it didn't particularly matter to the delighted audiences that the era "Hair" described had already long passed -- they were satisfied that at last they were getting with it. Neil Diamond is essentially a middle-brow, mass-cult entertainer, and he has succeeded in amassing an enormous number of fans who aren't ready, willing, or able to take the Alice Coopers and David Bowies.
- Peter Reilly, Stereo Review, 4/73.
Diamond set the concert stage afire across the country and throughout Europe this past summer and fall, and the dynamic performances and excitement he generated is captured in this exceptional two record set. Highlights are of course his now classic hits, with a few surprises thrown in. The package demonstrates why Diamond is one of the hottest sellers and draws in the business today, and it will undoubtedly prove his biggest chart album to date.
- Billboard, 1973.
This double-record set is the album that established Diamond's reputation as a live performer. Containing passionately performed versions of his biggest hits up to this time, it sold the best of any album he'd had so far, going gold the month of its release. * * * *
- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
A soft rocker whose strong suit is bombast, Neil Diamond cuts a maddening figure through pop music: He's responsible for some of the most infectious odes to joy ever to grace an AM radio ("Cherry, Cherry," "I'm a Believer"), and the mastermind behind a boatload of bloated, pretenious, manipulative tuneage ("I Am...I Said").
Can't have one without the other: But you can focus on a moment before the songwriter and guitarist became mired in unmitigated sap: This 1972 concert at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, which finds Diamond's alter ego, "Brother Love," gathering the diffuse strands of his musical personality into an exhuberant, roof-rattling revue, amazingly, avoids schmaltz.
Diamond was already an expert in the studio; Tap Root Manuscript and his other acclaimed recordings are built around crisp acoustic guitar, with layers of harmony vocal and just the right specks of instrumental "seasoning" -- you don't have to love the songs to respect the craft behind them. For Diamond, putting those songs across live was another matter: He'd been touring with a typical small rock combo, and began to realize that some of this material -- epic-sounding songs like "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" and "Sweet Caroline" -- could benefit from a thicker sound. So he augmented the arrangements, wrote snazzy horn charts, and added grand orchestral swells and fanfares. Remarkably, the extra musicians don't goop things up. They match the pomp of Diamond's big-tent themes, and jolt everything with palpable electricity, making this the rare live album that improves, in some cases dramatically, on the studio versions.
- Tom Moon, 1,000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die, 2008.
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