Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Ozzy's Weather Forecast

I put off writing a review of Ozzy Osbourne's Black Rain for a few weeks, finding other subjects in the world of music to muse. I could say that I really wanted to take the time to get a feel for the album and make sure I was able to judge it on its own merits with no personal bias for or against Ozzy Osbourne, but it would be closer to the truth to say that I just didn't get around to it, and I need a subject for today, so here we are. Honestly, I could have written the review the day it came out because it was a rather impressive Ozzy Osbourne album overall.

It's been a few weeks now, though, and I've had time to properly ingest, digest, regest, gestate, and gesticulate the album, and I still find it to be a pretty solid album from start to finish. This is more than I could have said for Ozzmosis or Down To Earth. In fact, this is the most solid album he's pinched off since No More Tears in 1991, of which Motörhead's Lemmy Kilmister augmented a third. Ozzy's solo career seems to consist of one solid album each decade amongst a series of half-hearted efforts with a couple of good songs each. Blizzard of Ozz was his standout album in the Eighties, No More Tears in the Nineties, and now Black Rain in the new decade. I could have rebuked Ozzy's claims that Black Rain felt like the true follow-up to No More Tears, but dammit, after hearing it, I feel exactly the same way. It is surely an album a decade and a half in the making.

Just when I thought Ozzy Osbourne was completely washed up, he produces an album that completely changes my perception of him. I was reduced to making fun of his singing
a few weeks ago, citing that "he almost sounds like he's just wailing out one incessant moan through each song." Don't get me wrong, for being probably THE most distinctive voice in heavy metal, he is absolutely not a good singer. Still, there will never be another singer who sounds quite Ozzy Osbourne. Even though his voice does sound somewhere between a nagging whine and a painful moan, he has managed to gain a high level of respect amongst his peers. The last few albums, particularly with Zakk Wylde, really stretched the limits of his voice pretty thin, and just when based on the first release from the new album, "I Don't Wanna Stop," I get the feeling he should just give it up, he utterly surprises me by showing the vitality of a man half his age. Granted, it's the same voice he's always had, but he sings harder on this album than he has in decades. Keep in mind this is following an ATV accident with serious damage to his chest area. Granted that was a few years ago, but the man is pushing sixty and not only has he recovered, but he recovered well enough to bloody sing his guts out on this album. Seriously, on some of these songs I picture his mouth opening wide as he sings and a giant bag of his innards plopping out onto the floor like the toad in Pan's Labyrinth.

The music on the album is stronger too. It's mastered to stand up to the hardest of heavy metal albums being released this year. It's also more conceptually tight than some of the previous albums which were punctuated with about as many sappy ballads as hard songs. This album has a couple of ballads, but they only minorly break the overall flow of the album. More to the point, they're easily ignorable. This album is driven by hard conviction, and judging by the first two songs, one might surmise that said conviction is that Ozzy is "not going away" anytime soon. Beyond that, there is a lot of socio-political awareness going on in this album. I'd say more than two-thirds of the album is a social or political message that boils down to the same message that every single other musician whose name isn't Toby Keith and pretty much every other person on the planet has been conveying for the past five or six years now — that America, under Bush's leadership, absolutely, positively sucks outright.

The most badass songs not only include, but are: "
Not Going Away," "Black Rain," "The Almighty Dollar," "Civilize The Universe," and "Trap Door." (Here, I'm including samples not to promote the songs themselves, but merely to highlight some examples of the passion with which Ozzy is singing on this album.) Honorable mention goes to "11 Silver" and "Countdown's Begun," which are probably good songs because I don't have an overwhelming urge to hit the "skip" button when they come on, but they're not really memorable songs. They carry the album, but I honestly can't remember a single thing about them right now without listening to them, and I'm listening to something else at the moment. However, considering that "11 Silver" is sandwiched between "The Almighty Dollar" and "Civilize The Universe," and "Countdown's Begun" serves as more of an intro to the explosive "Trap Door," I think it's more that the surrounding songs do so well to overshadow these two than that these are bad songs.

Then there's "I Don't Wanna Stop." Of the notable songs on the album, this is probably the weakest, so of course it's the first single. I didn't include it in either the badass songs or honorable mention categories because it deserves a catagory all of its own. This is not necessarily a bad song, but unfortunately it suffers the same dilemma that ruined Tool's "Schism" for me: It's played on the radio way too damn much. I'm just sick of hearing it. I rarely even listen to the radio, and I had already heard it probably over 100 times before the album even came out. It's not a good enough song to warrant being played that often. It's not like it's "Sober" or "Kashmir," which are two songs that are almost impossible to get sick of. This is the type of commercialism that is destroying American radio. Mediocre songs like this get played three times an hour and the general public has yet to be introduced to the sheer, mind-blowing intensity of
Scarsick. So, yeah, "All my life I've been smokin' the rock, blah blah blah, I don't wanna stop" BLAM BLAM BLAM BLAM BLAM BLAM BLAM click click click.

Then there's the two obligatory ballads, "Lay Your World On Me" and "Here For You." The titles of these two songs are retarded enough, I'm sure you can imagine what the actual songs sound like. Ozzy, stop doing ballads. You've only written three good ballads in your entire life. One was "Spiral Architect" with Black Sabbath, probably your best, and the other two were "Mama, I'm Coming Home" which was co-written by Lemmy, and "Road To Nowhere." Every other ballad you have attempted has sucked outright, the absolute worst being "Dreamer" from Down To Earth, which is bad enough to make me strongly consider going back in time and murdering my mother before I was born just to ensure I might never even accidentally end up hearing that song again in my life. These two aren't quite as atrocious as "Dreamer," but they're still not as good as "Road To Nowhere" or even "Mama, I'm Coming Home." I'm not even going to dignify them with a comparison to "Spiral Architect," which would at best result in a snicker.

The other major complaint I have about this album is its packaging. It comes in a brown digipak with no artwork and the tracklisting and credits scrawled across it in black. There's no booklet, no lyrics, no pictures, just this piece of cardboard and a disc. If you're a completist like me, there's no reason to actually buy this album because you're getting nothing for your money that you couldn't get online for free. Oh, you are getting free Ozzfest tickets, but that's only appealing if you actually plan on going to Ozzfest, which I don't. I just don't think I'd fair well in the Ozzfest crowd. I would probably enjoy many of the bands likely to appear, but what generally turns me off from heavy metal concerts are the heavy metal fans. They all have larger hole gauges in their ears than brains in their heads, and my desire to appear as a normal person makes me fit in with that crowd about as much as the one guy at an Anime convention not dressed like a Japanese schoolgirl. If I went to Ozzfest I'd be mistaken for a narc an get my ass kicked, and since this year it seems I can't go two weeks without getting another portion of my body painfully maimed, I'd be as relatively able to defend myself as Samuel L. Jackson in Unbreakable. So essentially, I got robbed of adequate album packaging to compensate for free concert tickets that I'm not going to use. I would have preferred a choice between the one with the concert ticket and the one with
this awesome cover.

Despite these minor irritations — only a few are the direct result of poor judgment from Ozzcorp — Black Rain is still a very strong Ozzy Osbourne album. The strongest he's had in a long time. It's powerful, passionate, and stomps a lot of ass. It's not as good as
Scarsick, to which I'm pretty sure nothing else this year will hold a candle, especially since Dream Theater just fell flat, but it's up there. In a completely different way, of course. It represents the other side of the heavy metal spectrum. It's not so much a cerebral album as it is just a good, hard rocking collection of very catchy and memorable songs. Highly recommended.


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