Ozzy Osbourne
Black Rain

 thought Ozzy’s last record, 2001’s Down to Earth, was one of the most underrated records of his career. (When I say last record, I’m not counting the god-awful covers record.) The six years since have certainly given fans reasons to be less than enthusiastic about the self-proclaimed Prince of Fucking Darkness. First there’s the joke of himself that he made on the MTV reality show at the urging of his wife Sharon. Then there’s the well-publicized feud with Iron Maiden on Ozzfest a couple of years ago, fueled by his wife Sharon. Let’s not forget the announcement that Ozzy was searching for a new guitarist, even though Zakk Wylde has made it clear time and again that the old man is his top priority. Then, of course, there’s the on-again, off-again relationship with Sabbath where they raise fans’ hopes with talk of a new record, then Ozzy waffles, and when Iommi and Co. get tired of waiting on him and head out with Dio again, they use the name Heaven and Hell, rumor has it, to avoid nastiness with Sharon. Anyone see a connection here? Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad she kept him alive, but most of the time I wish she’d just get the hell out of the way and let him be Ozzy again. Quit trying to make him a TV star and a gossip-column regular and let him make fucking music. That’s what allowed you to have the mansion and 25 dogs with diamond collars in the first place.

So is this new record enough to cross the water under the bridge and put the focus back on his music? I guess that depends on whether three or four really good songs (one great one) and a lot of mediocrity will change your mind. For me, this record is more in the vein of Ozzmosis. I don’t hate it, but I’m not likely to listen to it very often. I was excited after hearing a few of the 15 second clips scattered around Ozzy’s Web site, but clips can be deceiving. A lot of those clips were heavy on the big guitar riffs from Zakk, but his guitar is notably underutilized on a number of the songs on the record. If you’ve heard the bouncy, dance-flavored lead single “I Don’t Wanna Stop,” you’ll know there are some departures on Black Rain. Some work, some don’t.

Let’s go ahead and get the two ballads out of the way, “Lay Your World on Me” and “Here for You.” To put it bluntly, they’re bland and they’re boring. Perhaps two of the worst songs Ozzy’s ever recorded. “I Don’t Wanna Stop,” for all its danciness, is strangely addictive after a couple of listens. Another dancy tune “11 Silver,” doesn’t fare so well despite a very nice solo from Zakk that reminds me of Randy Rhoads’ solo from “Over the Mountain” – one of my favorite solos of all time. It’s one of the few shining guitar moments on the record. Likewise, the blues harmonica on the title track is really cool, but the cheesy 1980s harmonies on the chorus kind of ruin the effect.

So that covers half the songs on the record, and my response to all of them is “meh.” Now for the other half, which in all honesty are pretty good. Easily the strongest song here is “The Almighty Dollar,” which opens with a very Sabbath-like riff, fades into a nice funky bass line for the verse and has a huge chorus that’s absolutely the strongest musical moment on the whole record. In fact, I’d go so far as to say this may be the best song he’s recorded since No More Tears. A close second is “Civilize the Universe” which offers up the best guitar riff on the record and also has one of those big choruses. It really puts me in mind of Sabbath for some strange reason, even though it really doesn’t sound at all like a Sabbath tune. The remaining three songs, “Not Going Away,” “Countdown’s Begun” and “Trap Door” are all solid additions to the catalog. I particularly like the gritty beginning of “Countdown’s Begun,” with another big in-your-face riff from Wylde. (Wish there were more of those here.)

Now, the other big negative – the packaging. While I appreciate Ozzy’s environmental statement with this plain, brown, recycled slipcase, the reason that you buy a CD, as opposed to just downloading the songs, is for the packaging. I’m old enough to remember the cool packaging on LPs and realize those days are gone, but I at least expect a few liner notes. Admittedly, the free Ozzfest tickets are a very nice addition, but for those like me, who can’t really use them, you’ll probably end up feeling just a little screwed after plopping down 15 bucks for a glorified promo slipcase with a flap.

Just to clarify, I am an Ozzy fan. I’ll always be an Ozzy fan, and even if he decides to put out an album of dance music, I’ll still be right up front when he comes to town (though I’ll head to the bathroom or something when he starts doing the dance music). I’d just really like another great record from him – one of those with no throw-away songs. Maybe he doesn’t have another one in him, but songs like “The Almighty Dollar,” “Civilize the Universe” and “Countdown’s Begun” certainly suggest that he might. Though I hate waiting six years between albums, I’ll wait a few more for a whole record full of those. I’d also much rather hear about Ozzy’s music than about his kids or whatever crap his wife is starting with other famous people this week. I have to admit that the whole circus around him these days probably did a lot to taint my opinion of this record, but ultimately, I wish I had saved the $15 and spent $3 or $4 to download the songs that I’ll probably still care to listen to a couple of weeks from now.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Fred Phillips
October 27th, 2007

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