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Speak of the Devil

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  • This record is on its way to become a true rarity: deleted from the remastered Ozzy catalog, it is now only available as an import item or leftover from the `95 remaster. For years I hesitated about buying this, as I considered it to be something of an oddity, an apocryphal release of sorts, caught right in the no-man’s-land: it was an Ozzy solo record, but it contained no solo songs. Instead, it contained only Black Sabbath songs recorded during his US ‘82 tour at a show in New York, just a few months after Randy Rhoads tragic death.

    Being a major Randy fan, I really didn’t know what to make of this release, and I was frustrated `cause it wasn’t either a true Black Sabbath or Ozzy record, but rather some kind of hybrid. I didn’t know it at the time, but there were a lot of reasons that justified this release, at least for Ozzy: first, Ozzy had planned to release a live record featuring Randy, but the idea was scrapped after his untimely death.

    Second, Sharon and Ozzy were trying to negotiate his release from his original record deal with Sharon’s father, Don Arden, who was racking it up taking the lion’s share of the revenue generated by record sales; the contract demanded a final record, and it was decided to give him one full of Sabbath material as a retaliation, knowing full well that such a record could not compete with the potential sales of a brand new studio record.

    Third, Ozzy hated the poorly mixed, rush-released “Live at Last” album, which was released in Europe and constituted the only Sabbath live document at the time; and last but not least, Ozzy and Sharon heard that Sabbath were planning to release a live album with their (then) current lineup with Ronnie James Dio, so they thought this was a perfect occasion to annoy them. Finally, after listening to some of it and having my curiosity whet, I decided to get it and therefore complete my Ozzy collection. The end result? A live album that’s surprisingly good, sounding way better than “Live at Last”, on a par with “Live Evil” and miles ahead of “Reunion” (I can’t comment on “Past Lives” since I haven’t heard it).

    That being said, and especially if you compare this album with other Ozzy live releases (especially “Tribute”, which features live recordings only a year or so older), this one sounds a little too good, suspiciously good, at least as far as the vocals are concerned. I’m willing to bet that Ozzy punched-those-in in the studio. But that doesn’t really take away from the album, as the rest of the performance sounds quite honest, specially `cause there are noticeable glitches here and there! Remember folks, guitarist Brad Gillis had been in the band for a short time and had to rush-learn and rehearse the material, so very often in the recording, you can hear him having to resort to extensive use of his whammy bar in order to hide mistakes and find his way back in.

    But he ultimately pulls off an great job, masterfully backed by Rudy Sarzo on bass and Tommy Aldridge on drums, by far Ozzy’s best rhythm section ever. The band, for the most part, sounds tight and strong, making great performances of these Sabbath tracks, which remain for the most part quite respectul to the originals. As Ozzy himself points out, some of these songs, such as “The Wizard” and/or `Symptom of the Universe” were rarities seldom included in Sabbath’s set list, so this is a wonderful chance to hear those songs in a live context, “The Wizard” in particular being a highlight (at least it is for me).

    Some of the songs have minor changes in their structure, and I think I can hear at least one edit in there, but probably the thing that I was the most surprised of was to hear that Ozzy skipped singing the last part of “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath”, though: I mean, I understood his doing that for “Reunion” since he simply could no longer reach those high notes, but in 1982, I would have expected him to go for the big ones…oh well, no matter…

    Bottom Line: this is a CD worth checking out, if nothing else for its historical value, but I truly believe that Ozzy and Sabbath fans alike can truly enjoy this. This is the greatest live album Sabbath never made. Get it before it becomes unavailable.

    Posted on December 9, 2009