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Sunday, April 09, 2006

Flying High Again: The World’s Greatest Tribute to Ozzy Osbourne
Magick Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

I normally turn my back to tribute albums, not that I believe the artists participating in these endeavors are unworthy of my attention, but there comes a point where so many tributes have avalanched into the market the concept’s validity is becoming debatable. In my personal collection, I have only one tribute CD, Kiss My Ass which I hold an admitted fondness for because of THE MIGHTY MIGHTY BOSSTONES’ rendition of “Detroit Rock City” and Japanese pianist Yoshiki’s breathtaking scoring treatment of “Black Diamond.” Sheer artistry those, which scores a point in favor of the tribute album. Thus I kept an open mind as Flying High Again: The World’s Greatest Tribute to Ozzy Osbourne flocked to my mailbox.

Ozzy’s existence is a strange bone of contention to me; I came to him as a 12-year-old once my cousin-in-law put me on the metal path with IRON MAIDEN’s Killers and Ozzy’s Diary of a Madman. Throughout the years, OZZY was once treated by the mainstream as a brigand, a hellraiser, a Satanist. We fans and the original fans of BLACK SABBATH before us kept Ozzy in our protective fold for decades until his destiny placed him in the light of class clown with sudden mass appeal courtesy of the cash-cow minded MTV and suddenly one of our own was plucked from us as METALLICA was before him.

If anything, Flying High Again reminds us that Ozzy Osbourne has left us a legacy of important heavy metal before exposing himself as a mind-addled cussing addict, though he is a most noteworthy father and husband in his elder statesman years. It was the music that got him to this point, and love or hate The Osbournes, it is cool to reflect upon the man’s musical contributions. On Flying High Again, outside of CHILDREN OF BODOM’s miserable “Shot in the Dark” is a free-spirited though faithful redux of classic Ozzy material. The sterling “Mr. Crowley” by Tim “Ripper” Owens and Yngwie Malmsteen sets this project on the right course. Ironically, Ripper comes off sounding more like Ronnie James Dio at points on his cover, which you have to admire the irony, whether it’s intentional or not. And it’s fitting that Yngwie relays to us the soul of Randy Rhodes; so few are capable of it, and yet there’s a small of Yngwie’s own soul to the solo work that makes this a wondrous cover tune. ICARUS WITCH has a terrific stab at “S.A.T.O.” with legendary guitarist George Lynch, while FOREVER SAY DIE and Jeff Duncan does a nearly-accurate “Bark at the Moon.” Particularly impressive is the final solo that is just about by-the-numbers to Jake E. Lee’s.

Lita Ford takes both parts from her duet with Ozzy in a cute live version of “Close My Eyes Forever,” and from there the best nuggets are yet to come. Lemmy Kilmeister and Richie Kotzen drub out a crunchy version of “Desire,” and then Dee Snider, Doug Aldrich and Jason Bonham make a somewhat cheeky cover of “Crazy Train.” Honestly, there’s no one else aside from Ozzy I’d rather hear sing this suddenly-less-dangerous-than-it-once-was classic than Dee Snider. Points to the powers that be for understanding only another true vagabond from the day should have this honor. One of the biggest surprises to my ears was Mark Slaughter and Brad Gillis tackling “Over the Mountain,” who do a superb job. I had no surprise that the fully capable Joe Lynn Turner would turn in anything less than spectacular on his duet with Steve Lukather on “Hellraiser.” NOVEMBERS DOOM had me laughing with “Revelation (Mother Earth)” as the band smartly and precisely sets the instrumentation while vocalist Paul Kuhr Cookie Monsters his way through the vocals in his own inimitable style, trading off his growls for his trademark hypnotized cleans, only to surrender them to a soothing female siren vocal track. Some may consider this an abomination, but NOVEMBERS DOOM are a very stylish band that you either get or you don’t. The same applies to this poignant cover. Finally, as Yoshiki made the most personal statement with “Black Diamond” on Kiss My Ass, the ALEX SKOLNICK TRIO ends Flying High Again with a gorgeous jazz reworking of “Goodbye to Romance” that shifts from a lounge feel to a freestyle rockout session. Brilliant.

If Flying High Again succeeds, it’s in the way the bands treat the material with appropriate reverence, reminding us all that before Ozzy Osbourne put him and his family out there for mass consumption and water cooler conversation, he created some of the most memorable metal history has seen and will ever see.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Motorhead reissues

Motorhead – Another Perfect Day reissue (Sanctuary Records Group) Ray Van Horn, Jr.

When you look back and see Iron Fist preceding this album by a meager year and you stop to think that Another Perfect Day might not have been made in its day and time, it seems preposterous. Incredibly overlooked, Another Perfect Day marks Motorhead at a crossroads in which “Fast” Eddie Clarke had taken off and instead of wallowing in self-pity, Lemmy Kilmeister and “Philthy” Phil Taylor recruited Thin Lizzy guitarist Brian “Robbo” Robertson in what would end up as a one shot performance, but the dimensions Robertson brings to this album makes it one of Motorhead’s standouts.

In my opinion, Brian Robertson, for his mixture of conventional and flamboyant guitar work, is twice the guitarist “Fast” Eddie Clarke was, particularly when you see the direction Clarke took in Fastway, which peaked, really, with the Trick Or Treat soundtrack and fleeting moments on Fastway’s first album. Sad to think that Fastway’s only legacy comes in the form of Flogging Molly’s Dave King, who no longer shrieks metal falsettos in his much-hipper Irish punk troupe.

Songs like “Shine,” “One Track Mind” and “Marching Off to War” (though the latter song benefits from a killer end verse slide melody) lay eventual blueprints for future Motorhead songs (as many of these songs are themselves extensions of the past) that take their foundations as if sometimes trying to erase the memory of this album, while “Dancing On Your Grave” has cropped up in Motorhead’s live set of late. Somehow I get the feeling there’s still a bone of contention in Lemmy’s world about this abrupt moment of time in Motorhead’s illustrious career.

The killer playing of “Robbo” is what makes Another Perfect Day the halcyon recording it is. What more proof do you need than on the speedy “Back at the Funny Farm” or “Die, You Bastard?” which is a personal all-time favorite of mine, or the then-uncharacteristically laissez-faire but cool “I Got Mine?” All over the place is Robertson that it seems quizzical his tenure was so brief. Of course, he reportedly had a bad attitude and an un-metal affinity for legwarmers…

Eventually Phil Campbell would become Motorhead’s definitive guitarist, but having a listen to Another Perfect Day, along with the bonus “Live at Manchester Apollo” disc in this reissue, reveals that Motorhead did more than rebound in a post-Eddie Clarke existence; they thrived in ways not even they probably had a true appreciation for.

Motorhead – Rock ‘n Roll reissue (Sanctuary Records Group) Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Okay, friends, sing along with me… “C’mon baby, eat the rich! Bite down on the son of a (BEEP!)…”

Now I’m sure if you saw “Eat the Rich” on the original Headbangers Ball, you were undoubtedly pissed off that MTV bleeped out the offending curse word, but such was to be expected in a second-term conservative environment in the Reagan era that encouraged the same materialism Motorhead poked fun at with this song that served inspiration to a generally quirky satire flick of the same name. Also to be kept in mind is the hyper-sensitivity of the nefarious PMRC that would nail your balls to their self-righteous crosses for merely saying “fart,” “poop” or “queef” in your lyrics. Seems funny to think upon this in a day an age when you hear anything but “shit” or “fuck” on network t.v. Even “pussy” is now socially acceptable as an insult on the tube. So why is it, that even on Metal Mania on VH-1 Classic, the boogering bleep is still intact? Food for thought.

It was at this point in 1987 when Motorhead, after riding the rails of Orgasmatron to a bit of a comeback in the mid-eighties struck again with what purists look at as an indispensable cog in the history of metal and punk’s loudest band, Rock ‘n Roll. The average consumer would undoubtedly skip over this album and go right for Ace of Spades and Iron Fist, two of the best in Motorhead’s vast catalog for sure, but it’s Rock ‘n Roll, preceded by Orgasmatron and followed four years later with 1916 that kept the Deaf Forever Motorhead chugging along as a foursome until blitzing like icons-splashing-in-the-fountain-of-youth as a trio once again.

Rock ‘n Roll is reflective of the times it was conceived in. Perhaps one of the loudest albums Motorhead has recorded (now appropriated in this remastered version), Rock ‘n Roll is 35 minutes of bitchy, blaring bullshit that is so very much Motorhead, as on the grimy title track, the pounding silliness of “The Wolf,” or the boisterous life-on-the-road anecdotal track “Stone Deaf in the USA.” Obviously setting out to prove that Orgasmatron was no fluke as a quartet, Lemmy Kilmeister, along with “Philthy” Phil Taylor on skins and Wurzel and future mainstay Phil Campbell on guitars, Rock ‘n Roll was originally met with some scorn, and if anything, the true skepticism of this album comes from the fact that a point-of-no-return aura hovered around it. Make or break, Motorhead was in a class of AC/DC and The Ramones as far as bands that had undergone transition, modified themselves only as much as the scene would permit, and took it upside the face for doing so.

In the end, Rock ‘n Roll ends up becoming akin to Fly on the Wall by AC/DC and Too Tough to Die by The Ramones, all three albums that were indicative of its players’ grudging reactions to the changing times. To diehards, the sound came off quirky, but in the overall history, each band has albums ignored by the mainstream fan but to longtime followers, they’re requisite recordings in the long run. That being said, if you’re told Rock ‘n Roll sucks, bite down on the son of a bitch…