There’s something wonderful about seeing things in a different light than before. Some of us go through our lives thinking certain things are one way, when others might see the same thing in a totally opposite way. If those two sides see eye-to-eye, though? It’s a beautiful thing.
I’d like to think that there’s a bit of that eye-to-eye business with Epic/Legacy’s new reissues of the first two Ozzy Osbourne albums. New fans who pick these packages up will learn that there is so much more to the Prince of Darkness than some cheap shocks and silly reality shows – and the label itself gets a fine lesson on how not to mess with a good thing.
In case you’ve missed this story before, when Blizzard of Ozz (1980) and Diary of a Madman (1981) were last released by Legacy in 2002 (as Epic/Legacy EK 85247 and 85249, respectively), they were grossly misleading products. The original bass and drum tracks, performed by Ozzy’s touring band members Bob Daisley and Lee Kerslake, were scrubbed off the reissues and replaced by new tracks performed by Robert Trujilo of Metallica and Mike Bordin of Faith No More. The reason was fairly simple – Osbourne was engaged in lawsuits with the musicians and essentially used this as a kiss-off – but there was no indication that any of the new discs had re-recorded parts.
Now, however, these new reissues (Epic/Legacy 88697 73818-2 and 88697 73821-2) feature the albums as they were originally meant to be heard – a must-buy in and of itself – but what fans know (and what fans-to-be will certainly find out) is that the real stars of the show aren’t the rhythm tracks, but the two members of the band whose first names end in “y.”
It’s always hard when a band’s frontman goes solo. It’s even harder when you’re John Michael Osbourne, known for moving crowds as the frontman for the hard-rocking Black Sabbath as well as a notorious streak of substance abuse when not performing. Ozzy really had little choice, being fired from the band in 1979, and had to come up with a good second act. He did, and in spades. Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman both bring to the fore something that casual observers may not notice: Ozzy Osbourne is a hell of a performer. His keening voice, either on its own or multitracked, is nothing like the Birmingham mumble viewers of The Osbournes know him for.
And then, there’s Randy – that’d be Randy Rhoads, the ex-Quiet Riot guitarist who joined Osbourne for these two records and their respective tours, can’t be oversold by either fans or Ozzy himself, who’s never run out of kind words for his friend’s work. Rhoads’ style – clean and aggressive one moment, subdued and almost classically reverent the next – raised the bar for every guitarist in the world of hard rock. And only on two records! Imagine what the pair would have accomplished were it not for the tragic plane accident that killed Rhoads in 1982.
The bonus material on both discs does pay adequate tribute to Rhoads. Blizzard features, in addition to favorite B-side “You Looking at Me, Looking at You,” a remix of excellent album cut “Goodbye to Romance” that brings Ozzy and Randy front and center and a 74-second outtake of Rhoads soloing wildly. The excellent Blizzard of Ozz tour, meanwhile, forms a live disc added to Diary; while the track list is virtually identical to the essential Tribute (1987), which was also drawn from the same tour, it’s full of energy, and sounds pretty darn good too. (This isn’t some sweetened bootleg that even major labels are guilty of utilizing when the chips are down.)
If there’s any complaint about the presentation of each set, it’s twofold: neither disc features any sort of detailed liner notes (the booklets are full of great live images and memorabilia instead), and the bonus material feels unevenly distributed. Ozzy himself calls Diary of a Madman a personal favorite, but as great as the album is, it’s Blizzard that deserves your attention first. Nothing will ever replace the first time Ozzy went solo, like a lightning bolt leveling the wheat field that was heavy metal – so it’s odd that Diary gets the bonus disc. If anything, Blizzard should come with the excellent DVD, Thirty Years After the Blizzard, available only as part of an expensive mega-box that combines both reissues in a deluxe set with vinyl and other swag. While it’s not the complete story of both albums – again, Daisley and Kerslake are nowhere to be found – it’s a mostly warts-and-all snapshot of Ozzy’s nascent solo career, including some now-infamous moments involving winged animals.
And, like on Blizzard and Diary, the documentary has its moments of beauty. In several sequences, the camera lingers on the 62-year-old Ozzy as he listens to the multitracks of his original albums, finding details buried in the original mixes. It’d be easy to peg his fixed gaze and tentative movements on years of substance abuse finally taking its toll – but there’s real emotion behind those tinted sunglasses, as if he’s taken aback by what he and his musical partners created. Revisiting these records, you might feel the same way.