Released: 2007, Epic Records
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
While fronting Black Sabbath, hosting the annual Ozzfest tour and starring in his own television show, some people may have forgotten that, oh yeah, Ozzy Osbourne actually has a lengthy solo career, too. It has been six years since Osbourne’s last venture under his own name—2001’s DOWN TO EARTH—and while that album was lackluster at best, his latest offering, BLACK RAIN, is easily his best since NO MORE TEARS way back in 1991. Even 1995’s OZZMOSIS had a few good tracks but it certainly didn’t make anyone forget about Osbourne’s nearly flawless string of albums in the eighties. As he did on 1986’s THE ULTIMATE SIN and, of course, with the Sabbath classic “War Pigs,” the global war situation is heavily tapped for lyrical fodder on BLACK RAIN. Osbourne’s voice is over-produced as always but Kevin Churko has made the album as a whole sound excellent with various modern effects and studio tricks. The real standout is long-time guitarist, Zakk Wylde (Black Label Society), whose thick, sludgy riffs and pinch harmonics augment the beefy rhythm section of Mike Bordin (ex-Faith No More) and former Rob Zombie bassist, Rob “Blasko” Nicholson to maximum effect. Many of the tracks here sound like Black Label Society-lite but with Osbourne’s melodies and catchy songwriting. In essence, BLACK RAIN offers no surprises or breaks any new ground but delivers exactly what one would expect in an Ozzy Osbourne album.
The thicker-than-Kentucky-mud riff of “Not Going Away” drives the slow, plodding song along. Wylde’s trademark guitar squeals and soaring solo could be lifted off any one of his Black Label Society releases without skipping a beat. Osbourne’s vocals have been processed, re-processed…and processed again on the chorus but Nicholson’s thunderous bass thump is spine-rattling. The stomping groove of “I Don’t Wanna Stop” is a wise choice for a first single. The chorus is instantly catchy and is another entry in Osbourne’s growing list of anthems. His telling lyrics here (“I’ll make my own decisions…Why don’t they ever listen to me/It’s just a one-way conversation”) could certainly be construed as frustration towards those who treat him as the incoherent, doddering fool portrayed in The Osbournes television show, too. The gloomy title track serves as an updated version of “War Pigs” with relevant anti-war lyrics (“Politicians confuse me…why are the children all marching into the desert to die?”), superb vocal harmonies and even a harmonica and…a didgeridoo! “11 Silver” hints at Osbourne’s problems with chemical dependency and the searing guitarwork of Wylde really sizzles. A wailing shredder of a solo captures Wylde at his very best, incorporating speed, intensity and skill into one fiery package. “Civilize The Universe” bounces along on an easy-rolling melodic chorus driven by Nicholson and Bordin, who are an unbelievably tight unit. A funky bassline and 4/4 rock beat have never sounded so good together.
As has been the case with the last few Ozzy Osbourne albums, when things are good they are very good but they are bad, they are very, VERY bad. “The Almighty Dollar” is too long at nearly seven minutes and *gulp* actually has Ozzy rapping at one point! For whatever reason, Osbourne continues to inflict tepid, schmaltzy ballads on his fans. Who actually enjoys these?! Here, we are forced to sit through the wretched “Lay Your World On Me” and “Here For You” (or as I like to call it, “Mama, I’m Coming Home Part 2”) as he croaks through sappy lines like “You’re my religion/You’re my reason to live.” What really gets troubling though is the overuse of effects on the vocals. It is no secret that Osbourne’s voice is nearly shot and anyone who has seen him perform live recently knows that his range—which was never among the best to begin with anyway—has been seriously curtailed. In other words, what people are hearing here is not an accurate representation of Osbourne’s vocals. A significant amount of time and effort has been put into making Osbourne sound this good and whoever worked his or her magic in the studio should certainly be commended for spit-polishing a very tired and damaged instrument.
For five decades, the self-proclaimed “Prince of Darkness” has entertained audiences and while his musical output has become increasingly sporadic over the past dozen years, Ozzy Osbourne remains a relevant pillar of heavy metal with BLACK RAIN. While not without a few serious flaws, some of his best material in years can be found here. Slick in its delivery with plenty of hooks and stinging guitar parts, one can almost forgive Osbourne for walking through OZZMOSIS and DOWN TO EARTH. Almost.
Bottom line: Predictable but enjoyable.
KILLER KUTS: “Not Going Away,” “I Don’t Wanna Stop,” “Black Rain,” “11 Silver,” “Civilize The Universe”