Was Steve’s pain really our gain?
This is his third (English) outing in Coverland, coming after an enjoyable nod to Kris Kristofferson and his first, commercially successful, collection of Diamond songs, Beautiful Night.
Thankfully, his latest tribute isn’t marred by the awful production values of recent “Afrikaans market” releases, but it’s beyond this hurdle that a personality clash arises. Hofmeyr’s love for his idol is very real and often, very effective. But the lighter, up-tempo side of Diamond’s catalogue doesn’t resonate nearly as well as hoped with Hofmeyr’s gravelly – perhaps weary – voice. Rarely, only rarely, as on the gospel-flavoured “Thank You For The Night Time”, does Hofmeyr get as caught up in the excitement as he should.
Searching for the real Steve Hofmeyr in “Sweet Caroline” is looking in the wrong place, however. It’s in Diamond’s slower, more deliberate reflections on life and love lost and found that Steve regains his charm. We needn’t struggle, on this performance, in casting him as a “Solitary Man”. Chest out, the popster asserts both emotional independence and his license to interpret the anthems of his favourite New Yorker. The wounded pride melts into nostalgia with “If You Know What I Mean”, as Hofmeyr belts out a melody of remembered love with more than a little familiarity.
We can only speculate how much personal grief Steve has poured into his idol’s mould, but there seems to be more than enough to go round. One side of the album, the darker, more vulnerable face of it, appears to have drawn some strength from that. This is what we do, after all, when we are down. We turn to old stories and metaphors, things our heroes taught us, and remembering them try to get back up again. The songs of Neil Diamond have (again) given Hofmeyr a solid, but imperfect, collection to please his fans, but he may have gotten something he needed more: the songs he needed to hear.
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