Ozzy Osbourne: The Essential Ozzy Osbourne

Ozzy Osbourne
The Essential Ozzy Osbourne

Doddering patriarch of MTV
Dove-head biter
The paradigm for “Behind the Music”
The devilish leader of the Sabbath
Drunken hair-metal begetter
All of the above

“All of the above” wins. At times throughout his meandering portrait of the artist as a self-destructive man, Ozzy Osbourne has been all things to all people. For those only recently on board, he’s the all-swearing, utterly baffled head gadfly of the sitcom family for the new millennium, The Osbournes. The 2003 version of Ozzy is one decidedly safer for the consumption of the masses. Even the uber-Christian Bush-in-chief acknowledged the devil’s presence at a White House Correspondent’s Dinner. He’s now the doting husband of Sharon(!), hands forever shaky, mouth in full mumble. In short, Ozzy Osbourne is the zany dad learning the fine art of the remote control from his technologically advanced children. It’s hard to believe that only a short while ago …

… he tried to kill said wife in a drug/booze induced rage, bit the head off a dove and served (for the literal minded) as the mouthpiece for the devil with lyrics like, “Now you live inside a bottle / The reaper’s traveling at full throttle / It’s catching you but you don’t see / The reaper’s you and the reaper is me”. Basically, Ozzy Osbourne was Dan Quayle’s worst nightmare. Funny that Quayle’s worst nightmare should come true with Osbourne becoming the archetype for the role of father in television. With all the outlandish tales of absolute destruction and mayhem, it is all too easy to forget what brought this bloke from Birmingham, England to the limelight in the first place — yes, the music. As a document to the seemingly forgotten portion of Osbourne’s life, The Essential Ozzy Osbourne arrives as a reminder of what the man sounds like when backed by a family of guitars.

Disc 1 of the two-disc, 29-song collection begins auspiciously with the electric gloom of “Crazy Train”. When our man Ozz sings “I’m going off the rails on a crazy train”, it’s easy to believe him. It is on this track that Osbourne implements the strained paranoia of his voice to full effect. When he’s on target in a song like “Crazy Train” or the equally fun “Flying High Again”, he brings the full alienation of a man trying not to survive through his state of wit’s end. The irony of the self-proclaimed “Prince of Darkness” singing “Maybe it’s not too late / To learn how to love / And forget how to hate” is almost funny in hindsight. By reading these lyrics, one might immediately think of a McCartney record. Therein lies the talent of Mr. Osbourne — he creates a warm blanket of mania that reaches out to the myriad of others who feel his pain. The kids in permanent black roaming high school halls now had a megaphone and its name was “The Blizzard of Oz”. The first half of Disc 1 showcases Osbourne’s solo peak with the one-two punch of “Blizzard of Ozz” and “Diary of a Madman”. It is on these two albums that he most successfully revamps his previous incarnation of Sabbath with a new, more anthemic ’80s sound. Included here is a live version of the Black Sabbath classic “Paranoid”. Unbelievably, guitarist and early collaborator Randy Rhoads breathes new life into the walloping grunge blueprint and takes it to new heights; a perfect example of memory colliding with the immediacy of present. Tellingly, once Rhoads met his tragic end in a 1982 freak plane crash, Osbourne’s music took a sharp turn for the worse.

The second half of Disc 1 is mostly hair-metal filler. One can hear the booze, pills, tights, and chlorofluorocarbons wafting through the speaker on songs like “Crazy Babies” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Rebel”. These were unfortunate blueprints for the “Unskinny Bop” era of the late ’80s. The heavily echoed and mechanic drums, along with the glossy production sheen take all the bite out of a man who’s supposed to bark at the moon. By the time the repetitive drone of “Breakin’ All the Rules” unleashes no fury, one has built up an “Appetite for Destruction” (an album released at the same time that made Ozzy’s No Rest for the Wicked utterly irrelevant). Mirroring the toilet flush of his music was Osbourne’s personal life, which at the time foreshadowed the creation of the demise/rise obsessed Behind the Music.

According to this VH-1 lore, what goes up and down must come up again (even if it’s Leif Garrett) and Ozzy was ready for his third act. The 1991 album No More Tears is represented by a whopping five tracks on Disc 2 of The Essential Ozzy Osbourne. One gets the sense that the makers of this retrospective actually have no idea what the word “essential” means (Note to Legacy Recordings: It means “indispensable”). Yet, here we have a virtual EP made up of 1995’s bombastic Ozzmosis. By this time in our adventure (song #23, but who’s counting), one might think about going for the “Suicide Solution”. This collection needs an editor worse than a Bill Clinton speech. Sorry, but over 150 minutes of “barking at the moon” is more than enough for me. The only real keepers on the second disc of “essentials” are “Mama I’m Coming Home” and “No More Tears”, songs that bring Ozzy out of his stupor and into a well-defined and epic emotion.

Let’s hope Ozzy’s recording career has now ended, otherwise the people at Legacy Recordings will have to press a third CD for the release of We Swear: The Truly Essential Ozzy Osbourne. Instead of holding your breath for that one, go buy Blizzard of Ozz and rent The Osbournes: Season One DVD. That’s essential Ozzy.