Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Ozzy Osbourne, No More Tears

Zakk Wylde is metal's greatest one album wonder. He's written a few good songs with Ozzy in the past 20 years, as well as many bad ones with Black Label Society, a band that's apparently only enjoyed by Guitar World readers. But give him his due, in all the endorsements, record sales and touring slots that he deserves, never forgetting that he co-wrote and played lead on the best solo album by heavy metal's Elvis.

Nearly everyone points to Blizzard of Ozz or Diary of a Madman, the two albums that Ozzy wrote with Randy Rhoads, as the towering achievements of his solo career. They're not far off. But for songwriting, Ozzy peaked with 1991's No More Tears. Like a few of his metal legend contemporaries, mainly Judas Priest, Ozzy was both distancing himself from glam metal and competing with the rising thrashers of the early '90s. That sense of urgency, plus the enlistment of Motörhead's Lemmy and budding guitar god Wylde, ending up giving Ozzy an album that held up not only with his Randy Rhoads records but his indelible work on the first six Black Sabbath records.

It was "I Don't Want to Change the World," not "Crazy Train" or "Bark at the Moon," that made me a dedicated Ozzy fan. That stadium-sized chorus dishes out one of metal's most badass messages. While bands as varied as Mötley Crüe and Slayer were trying to scare the pants off of parents, preachers and politicians, Ozzy did so without even trying, or so he claimed. "Don't you try to teach me no original sin/I don't need your pity for the shape I'm in," goes one defiant couplet. "I don't want to change the world/I don't want the world to change me."

No More Tears also is the last genuinely creepy Ozzy album. Long before he was metal's (and eventually, with The Osbournes, America's) goofy dad, Ozzy could chill you with a child abuse narrative, from the gleefully irksome "Mr. Tinkertrain" to the equally haunting and infectious title track. "Hellraiser," an ode to Clive Barker's Pinhead, thrashed hard enough for Motörhead to record their own version for March or Die.

Ozzy has always had an excellent team, but never any with more chemistry than the one he has here, from powerhouse drummer Castillo to longtime bassist Bob Daisley, playing on his last ever Ozzy record. But the first mate, of course, is Wylde, whose playing spills out into mountains of riffage and solos that always seem to hit the sky and somehow end at the right time. Other than Slash, no hard rocker was making his axe sound this simultaneously professional and spontaneous.

But Ozzy also came into his own as a balladeer on No More Tears. "Mama, I'm Coming Home" put the last ten years of power ballads in their place, deservedly becoming the album's biggest hit and reportedly earning co-writer Lemmy more than he had earned in his previous 20 years as a musician. A perfect pop song played on metal instruments, it's only matched by the equally lovely "Time After Time," making No More Tears home to the two best ballads that Ozzy ever recorded. Giving any weight to songs played at this pace is no easy task, as shown by Ozzy's attempts to recreate their success, but here he put himself at the top of the game. Think of Ozzy's only peers among hard rock frontmen--David Lee Roth, Brian Johnson, maybe Steven Tyler or Paul Stanley--and imagine any of them trying to carry either of these songs.

One of the many things that has set Ozzy apart from his peers is his ability to end an album well--remind yourself that "Steal Away (The Night)", "Diary of a Madman" and "Shot in the Dark" are all closers. No More Tears tops itself off with one of Ozzy's best notes, the wistful "Road to Nowhere," wherein the Ozzzman muses, "The wreckage of my past is haunting me/It just won't leave me alone." As he told us nine songs ago, Ozzy doesn't want to change the world. He didn't set out to be the Christian Right's worst nightmare, but he became it just by being being born with an inimitable voice and a knack for taking risks. The rest of us wouldn't have him any other way.

Reflecting on No More Tears today, it sounds even more special when considering how short the magic lasted. The production and songwriting both got soggy, Wylde got caught up in the Guitarist Wars and started overplaying. Ozzy's voice and body can no longer keep up with his mind. But no reality TV shows, tabloid appearances, pinch harmonics exhaustion or inebriated performances can make No More Tears any less awesome.

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