Blizzard Of Ozz (Epic ’80) Rating: A
Boasting several classic heavy metal songs, this excellent first solo album showed that Ozzy Osbourne was still a vital heavy metal force even without his Black Sabbath band mates. “I Don’t Know” and “Crazy Train” (dig that kitschy beginning) feature catchy, explosive riffs courtesy of young guitar wizard Randy Rhoads, whose magnificent playing highlighted Ozzy’s first two solo albums. Rhoads was a classically influenced virtuoso whose brilliance would’ve only increased with years, and his shocking death at the tender age of 25 was a tragedy that Ozzy never really recovered from. But back to this album, which also featured a couple of ex-Rainbow alumni in bassist Bob Daisley (who insists he wrote the lyrics for the first five Ozzy albums and was certainly a key collaborator along with Rhoads in any event) and keyboardist Don Airey, plus Uriah Heep drummer Lee Kerslake. For all his “fookin’ Prince Of Darkness” reputation, “I Don’t Know” contains a highly commercial sheen that’s far removed from Black Sabbath, in particular its lighter inducing, hand swaying sing along section. “Crazy Train,” Ozzy's signature solo song, is all about its chugging groove and catchy chorus, though its lyrics about this increasingly out-of-control world that we live in are also notable, as are Randy’s solos, which are always melodic and emotional even when unleashing his draw dropping technique. “Goodbye To Romance” shows Ozzy’s tender side by being a slow, sad ballad about his breakup with Black Sabbath (though it carries a universal emotional resonance that can be applied to any broken relationship), and though it plods a bit too much and its cheesy keyboards sound awfully dated today, Ozzy’s sincerity nevertheless shines though in an extremely affecting manner. The albums other famous songs, all towards the beginning of the album (where the short acoustic instrumental interlude “Dee” also appears), are the highly controversial, droning rocker “Suicide Solution” (which Daisley wrote about the dangers of Ozzy drinking himself to death a la Bon Scott and which does not advocate suicide, though Ozzy was later blamed in a lawsuit where the parents blamed the song for their teenage son’s suicide), and “Mr. Crowley,” a sinister mood piece that’s highlighted by its eerie gothic atmosphere and several spectacular solos from Randy. As for the rest of the album, I don’t really care for the generic “No Bone Movies,” but the atmospheric, environmentally conscious “Revelation (Mother Earth),” an emotional, dramatic, and pretty dirge, is another extremely strong (epic length) track, and I also like the catchy, hard-charging finale “Steal Away (The Night),” even if it’s not the most original song around. Spurred on by loads of controversy (i.e. the aforementioned lawsuits plus “the dove incident” where Ozzy sickeningly bit off the head of a dove at a record company board room meeting!), the album became a smash hit, and its impressive overall quality silenced many of the doubters who had thought he was finished (Ozzy was “just the singer” in Black Sabbath, after all). Still, his best was yet to come.
Diary Of A Madman (Epic ’81) Rating: A+
Released a mere year after Blizzard Of Ozz, Diary Of A Madman is an even more consistent, atmospheric, heavy, and intense effort (let’s face it, Ozzy would spend the rest of his career trying to live up to his spectacular first two albums). Again led by the dynamic guitar pyrotechnics of Rhandy Rhoads (who died tragically in a plane crash soon after this album’s completion), Diary gloriously keeps alive Rhandy’s memory as an extraordinary guitarist, since it features his most outrageous playing on Ozzy’s strongest batch of songs. Also, Ozzy’s reputation as an Alomo pissing, bat eating lunatic and all around out-of-control addict, while well deserved, also unfairly obscures his undeniable talent as a singer, songwriter (with major assists from Rhoads, Daisley, and even Kerslake), and band leader. No matter how relentless the rocker, Ozzy still finds time for melody, whether on excellent scorchers such as “Over The Mountain” and “S.A.T.O.” or on the anthemic “Flying High Again,” arguably Ozzy's catchiest song ever (though its lyrics glorifying getting high seemed less "cool" after his teenage son went to rehab). Ozzy also contributes first class power ballads in “Tonight,” which soars on its singable chorus and epic guitar outro, and the 7-minute anthem “You Can’t Kill Rock N’ Roll,” an anti-record company classic that features one of Ozzy's very best vocal performances (when he sings "rock n' roll is my religion" it's hard not to believe him), while the haunting title track expertly climaxes the album on an epic (if somewhat hokey) note, with Randy’s neo-classical guitar and a dramatic gothic atmosphere leading the way. Granted, the dirge-like "Believer" and "Little Dolls" are less impressive, but Rhandy's edgy playing salvages the former, and an oddly catchy chorus and a surprisingly mellow bridge enhance the latter, making Diary a phenomenal, filler-free platter. Note: Kerslake and Daisley would be dismissed after the album, replaced by Tommy Aldridge and Rudy Sarzo, respectively. Daisley would soon be rehired, and years later both he and Kerslake would successfully sue Ozzy for allegedly owed songwriting credits and royalties. In an inexcusable revenge-motivated move almost certainly spearheaded by his wife/manager Sharon (who most of us know all too well by now), their parts were rerecorded by then current band mates Mike "Puff" Bordin (ex Faith No More) and Robert Triujillo (ex Suicidal Tendencies and soon to be in Metallica) for the now-infamous 2002 reissues, which should be avoided at all costs.
Speak Of The Devil (Jet ’82) Rating: B+
Ozzy was devastated by the death of Rhoads, with whom he had a very special relationship, but he decided to continue. When he got wind that his old friends turned foes in Black Sabbath were about to release a live album he decided to put together his own competing live album consisting solely of Black Sabbath songs. And whaddayaknow, against all odds - supposedly Ozzy had to read from a book of lyrics by the side of the stage, and Night Ranger guitarist Brad Gillis would hardly be anybody's first choice as a Tony Iommi impersonator - this is a surprisingly kickass live album. Featuring straightforward readings of 13 great songs ("Iron Man" and "Children Of The Grave" are done as a 2-for-1 medley), there are few long solos or extended improvisations, but the terrific song selection and energized performances, including more than merely solid vocals from Ozzy (touched up though they are, he dispels his former band mates' accusations about his lack of singing ability), offsets any major complaints I might have. Sure, Ozzy's idiotic yammerings - often quite charming in person - gets a bit annoying (what's "Snowblind" about again?), and he chickens out of attempting the challenging vocal section of "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath," but Gillis and the rhythm section of Aldridge and Sarzo acquit themselves quite well (shockingly well in Gillis' case). This is still no substitute for the classic Black Sabbath studio albums, and the Randy Rhoads Tribute album remains the definitive live Ozzy showcase, but I'm really glad that this album exists, dubious though Ozzy's original intent behind it may have been.
Bark At The Moon (Epic ’83) Rating: B+
With a retooled lineup (Jake E. Lee, guitars; Tommy Aldridge, drums; Daisley, bass; Airey, keyboards), Ozzy released Bark At The Moon to yet more controversy, as a 20 year old psychopath blamed the title track for making him feel “strange” enough to kill three innocent victims. It was total bullshit, of course, just like the previous charges had been, but again it caused much grief in the Ozzy camp. Anyway, Jake E. Lee isn’t quite as creative or imaginative as Rhoads, and their songwriting collaborations (again with Daisley) aren’t quite as impressive, but Lee is a mighty fine player in his own right who has his own distinctive if more straightforward style. The title track, a fun werewolf tale, is the obvious standout, being a catchy riff rocker with an atmospheric quality to it, but the album's overall quality makes it one of Ozzy’s better solo efforts, a few pedestrian entries aside, the nadir being the overblown ballad “So Tired.” Certainly “Now You See It (Now You Don't),” with its big beat, oddly poppy parts, and new wave-ish synths, is decidedly different and almost completely successful, while “Rock 'N' Roll Rebel” is a strong anthem-type song on which Ozzy (via Daisley, presumably) answers his critics (he does the same on “You’re No Different,” a pointed power ballad) as Lee blazes away. "Centre Of Eternity" also has exciting guitar work from Lee and some interesting gothic overtones, as does “Waiting For Darkness,” while the cheesy '80s synths on "Slow Down" (which also appear on too much of the rest of the album, such as on the aforementioned “Waiting For Darkness”) are offset by arguably the album's catchiest chorus. Overall, while not quite a classic Ozzy album, Bark At The Moon was a consistently enjoyable one that showed Ozzy Osbourne Inc. to be far from a spent creative force. Note: The appropriately spooky but rather average "Spiders" is a U.K.-only track, while "Slow Down" only appears on the U.S. version of the album
The Ultimate Sin (Epic ’86) Rating: B-
Exit Aldridge and enter Randy Castillo on drums. Also, the recording sessions were strained, in large part because Ozzy was often AWOL while in and out of rehab, leading to the departure of Daisley (though he later returned to write lyrics) in favor of Phil Soussan. The result of all the stress and turmoil (Ozzy and Lee were at serious odds as well) is a rather lackluster album, though it did well at the gate, being a top 10 U.S. and U.K. album, largely on the strength of "Shot In The Dark," Ozzy's biggest hit yet. Alas, there's a notable lack of energy to the performances, and the largely indistinguishable songs are Ozzy's slickest, most hair metal-ish to date. The title track is generic and rather lifeless, "Never Know Why" is a cheesy, unconvincing attempt at an anthem, and "Thank God For The Bomb" is melodramatic and quite silly sounding. Much better is "Secret Loser," with good riffs and a catchy self-loathing chorus, and "Never," with atmospheric keyboards (as opposed to bright and cheesy synthesizers), poppy refrains that work, and good riffs and solos from Lee. "Lightning Strikes" saw some airplay back in the day, and it's another solid track, with chugging mid-tempo riffs and a catchy if somewhat cheesy chorus, but "Shot In The Dark" is not only the album's biggest song but is also by far the best song here, being moody, rocking, and boasting an extremely catchy yet evocative chorus. This one is a definite "greatest hit," so to speak, and "Fool Like You" also has some good riffs going for it, though "Killer Of Giants" falls flat by comparison. The same could be said for about half the album on the whole, and even the best songs are mostly merely good for the most part. Ozzy's own lethargic presence and unwillingness to work was a big part of the problem, but even beyond that clearly changes needed to be made. Lee certainly thought so, as he abandoned the thankless task of replacing Randy Rhoads to form his own band, Badlands. Alas, despite releasing two really strong albums (Badlands and Voodoo Highway) of bluesy hard rock, Badlands was an ill-fated combo who never had the success they deserved; after a bitter breakup their dynamic lead singer Ray Gillen eventually died of AIDS in 1993. For his part, Ozzy circled the wagons, brought in some new blood, and soldiered on, as always.
Tribute (Epic ’86) Rating: A
The timing was right, so Ozzy and Sharon finally released Tribute, a sparkling sounding live recording of fantastic performances that did indeed serve as a fitting tribute to Randy Rhoads. The album also includes Sarzo, Airey, Aldridge, and of course Ozzy himself, but the album is all about the former hotshot young guitar wunderkind, who steals the show with his blazing, dazzling technique and uniquely creative Euro-classical style. Perhaps there are a couple of strange song selections, such as starting things off with “No Bone Movies” and including too much Blizzard material and not enough from Diary (and "Believer" is probably my least favorite Diary track), and I could easily live without Aldridge’s extended drum solo and the anticlimactic studio-based “Dee” outtakes. However, these are mere nitpicks against what is truly an essential hard rock live album. Rhoads is certainly at his very best on “I Don’t Know,” “Crazy Train,” “Mr. Crowley,” and “Suicide Solution,” his unaccompanied solo at the end of “Suicide Solution” being too short if anything. The three Black Sabbath songs towards the end are all ace as well, especially “Children Of The Grave” and “Paranoid,” as Rhoads puts his own indomitable stamp on Iommi’s songs. They’re not necessarily better, in fact they probably aren’t, but they are decidedly different and definitely also great in their own way. Though it’s the albums only ballad and therefore somewhat out of place given the prominence of Airey, “Goodbye To Romance” is extremely affecting given the circumstances. “We’ll meet in the end” indeed, and I certainly hope that’s the case because when my time comes I’d love to hear more from the diminutive dynamo who in a couple of brief years became a legend and helped establish Ozzy’s own legend as a solo artist. All of the attributes on which the Rhoads legend rests are right here, and Tribute was another big hit for Ozzy, hitting #13 in the U.K. and #6 on the U.S. charts.
No Rest For The Wicked (Epic ’88) Rating: B+
Enter keyboardist John Sinclair and a then-unknown 21 year old guitarist named Zakk Wilde, another gifted player with his own unique style that was more similar to Rhoads’ than Lee’s had been. Plus, whereas Lee was an introspective brooding type, Wilde was a party animal, so needless to say him and Ozzy hit it off better both personally and professionally. As a result, Ozzy and co. sound reenergized on No Rest For The Wicked, which is among his heaviest and best solo efforts, even if it lacked a slam dunk hit single and was therefore less successful than previous albums as a result. On the downside, Wilde goes overboard with those (at-times annoying) squealing high-pitched leads, the production sometimes sounds dated in that ‘80s kind of way, and most of the songs fall into the merely good category, with easily graspable hooks being hard to find. Still, almost every song is good, my favorites probably being “Miracle Man,” a delicious swipe at Jimmy Swaggart, “Fire In The Sky,” a moody, melodic, and anthemic album track, and “Hero,” whose singable chorus would’ve made for a good single (alas, it was relegated to being a mere “bonus track” here). In addition to his fiery guitar playing, Wilde is a good singer (check out his bands Pride And Glory and Black Label Society), and his backing harmonies on “Crazy Babies” and “Breaking All The Rules” have a Van Halen-ish quality. Again, there are few classics here, but songs such as “Devil’s Daughter” and “Bloodbath In Paradise” (about the Manson murders) are also dark and heavy, as the Prince Of Darkness was back on track.
No More Tears (Epic ’91) Rating: A-
After releasing a rip off 6-song live EP called Just Say Ozzy, nearly strangling wife Sharon and then finally getting sober, Ozzy returned with No More Tears, which preceded his “No More Tours” tour before he supposedly headed off into retirement. Well, it didn’t quite work out that way, but more on that later, as this album contained a fleshed out sound, as well as more ballads and mid-tempo material as Ozzy (successfully) attempted a more commercial, accessible sound. Sure enough, “Mama, “I’m Coming Home,” an evocative power ballad with a great Ozzy vocal, and the title track, an atmospheric, synth-heavy, multi-sectioned epic, were both deserving hits. “The Road To Nowhere” was another soulful power ballad that achieved some airplay, but Ozzy didn’t forget the hard rockers, either, as attested to by strong, catchy songs such as “Mr. Tinkertrain,” “I Don’t Want To Change The World” (a Grammy winner), “Desire,” and “S.I.N.” The band consists of Sinclair, Castillo, Daisley (soon to be replaced by future Alice In Chains bassist Mike Inez, though none other than Motorhead’s Lemmy writes lyrics to several songs instead of Daisley, who only plays on the album), and Wilde, who seems more confident this time as his playing is far more versatile without losing any of his explosive energy (check out his stellar solos on "No More Tears," "Desire," or “S.I.N.,” for example). The album is frontloaded and overly long at 57 minutes, and there are a few generic or worse tracks (“Hellraiser” and “Zombie Stomp” in particular are easily skippable), but by and large No More Tears was a successful compromise that I consider to be Ozzy's third best studio album. And the attendant “retirement” tour was something else; I've seen my share of concerts, including legends like The Who, Bruce Springsteen, U2, Pink Floyd, Metallica, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, AC/DC, Iron Maiden - plus many more - and Ozzy's "farewell" 1991 performance at New York City's Paramount Theater was hands down the best concert I've ever experienced. And it was an experience, with complete bedlam (literally hundreds of the 5000 capacity theater were on stage with Ozzy, who loved every minute of it) and consistently great songs (including quite a few Black Sabbath songs) being the order of the day.
Ozzmosis (Epic ’95) Rating: B
After another unnecessary live album (the 2-cd Live And Loud) and some aborted writing sessions with guitarist Stevie Vai, Ozzy brought back Wilde and also collaborated with professional songwriters such as Jim Vallance (a la Aerosmith) on Ozzmosis, a consistently solid album with few standout songs. Although a few tracks (“Perry Mason,” “Thunder Underground,” “My Jekyll Doesn’t Hide”) rock righteously hard (with help from Black Sabbath’s Geezer Butler who plays bass throughout), the album consists almost exclusively of mid-tempo material and contains quite a few power ballads, including the albums two best known tracks, “I Just Want You” and “See You On The Other Side.” “I Just Want You” is a moody, much multi-tracked power ballad with some excellent guitar work from Wilde, who excels throughout the album, and “See You On The Other Side,” the semi-successful first single, was about his eternal love for wife Sharon. Elsewhere, we get plenty of generic yet melodic ballads or semi-ballads, some with explosive choruses (“Tomorrow,” “Denial”), plus a sickly sentimental ode to young son Jack ("My Little Man," one of two songs here again co-written with Lemmy). As for the heavy rockers, the majority of them are merely workmanlike this time out. The album also suffers from overly long songs and a sterile sound, but most of the songs are solid, and Ozzmosis is about as satisfactory as I expected at this stage of his long career. “Old L.A. Tonight” (that’s Rick Wakeman on piano) provides a pleasingly low-key closer before Ozzy again hit the road on the “Retirement Sucks” tour, with guitarist Jake Holmes (a former student of Rhoads) in place of Wilde, who had become preoccupied with his own musical projects. After that successful reconnection with his fans, Ozzy and Sharon hatched the massively successful Ozzfest, a day long festival including many bands (headlined of course by Ozzy and/or Black Sabbath, who regrouped for a tour and the resulting Reunion album in 1998) that has become heavy metal's answer to Lollapalooza. Ozzfest has blossomed into an annual occurrence and has broke many young bands that otherwise would not have had the exposure, furthering Ozzy’s legend as one of the godfathers of the genre that he (with Black Sabbath) helped invent.
Down To Earth (Epic ’02) Rating: B-
After a "best of" compilation called The Ozzman Cometh, Ozzy reconvened with Wilde and the rhythm section of Bordin and Triujillo, who, along with producer/keyboardist/guitarist Tim Palmer, recorded the hard rocking but largely unmemorable Down To Earth. Quite a few of these songs have churning Stone Temple Pilots-type riffs, but only a few songs really stand out, "Gets Me Through," "Facing Hell," and "Junkie" being the ones I most easily remember. Well, I remember "Dreamer" as well, but for all the wrong reasons, as it's a flaccid soft rocker that's all too obviously influenced by John Lennon's "Imagine." Lyrically, Ozzy thanks his fans, confronts his demons (drugs, his failure as a father to his kids from his first wife), and generally sounds conflicted, but the music is fairly generic Ozzy-by-numbers, even if it is his hardest hitting effort in some time. After this, Ozzy released another live album, Live At Budokan (obviously Ozzy is attempting to rival the Stones in the "pointless live albums" sweepstakes), before becoming
an improbable T.V. star on MTV's hit reality show "The Osbournes," which unless you live under a rock you probably know all about. An appearance at the White House, a performance for the Queen, and a star on Hollywood Boulevard soon followed, as Ozzy became more than merely a rock star. And Ozzfest continued to be a hot ticket, though as of this writing Black Sabbath has yet to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame. They should be a slam dunk, and Ozzy Osbourne as a solo artist should get strong consideration as well, though based on the average Down To Earth his best days are likely done. Early 2009 update: After an all-covers album (2005's Under Cover) that made Pat Boone's In a Metal Mood seem like a masterpiece, and another weak solo album (2007's Black Rain, his highest charting album ever!), I think it's safe to take out the word "likely" in my previous sentence, though at least Black Sabbath were finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 2006. Better ridiculously late than never I guess.