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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

CD Review: Ozzy Osbourne - Scream

Ozzy Osbourne - Scream
2010 Epic Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Suffice it to say, The Ozzman has reinvented himself many times over the years from one of the world’s most feared rockers to ridiculous wolfman to glitzed anti-rocker to the profane goofball once ruling reality television. As much a caricature as the stuttering Ozzy Osbourne made of himself on MTV, there was enough snarky tomfoolery beneath the shell-shocked fa├žade on The Osbournes to turn a fair cheek to and enjoy the ride. It helped his family were just as entertaining as the patriarch, yet in the 2000’s Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne have built an empire upon a sketch character, one being a pale shadow of the electrifying madman from the early eighties. Still, Ozzy’s having fun these days, if you’ve been keeping track of his early-on promotional stunts behind his latest album, Scream.

There’s something decidedly hopeful, bouyant and chipper about Scream despite the fact it is one Ozzy’s most perplexing albums he’s placed his name to. Seriously, is this the same Ozzy, the one declaring himself out the gate as a healer, a servant, a leader, a saviour, a soldier and a killer on the opening number “Let it Die?” Even Ozzy’s acknowledging his larger-than-life oddity fame as an in-joke everyone’s privy to. Scream as an album thus carries forward with a black-cloaked pirate yar-harling to the lands of spice instead of the Bermuda Triangle.

One of the album’s biggest assets is Ozzy’s new Number One on the axe: Gus G. As former prog slinger for Dream Evil, Firewind, Nightrage, Mystic Prophecy and Old Man’s Child, Gus G. steps up to the majors in the shadow of herculean gunslinger Zakk Wylde.

As much as everyone in the metal community embraces Wylde, honestly, it was time Ozzy and Zakk parted ways. Black Rain and Down to Earth were more reflective of Black Label Society than Ozzy. With the official (second time) split, let BLS pummel at will with “Blessed Hellride” and “Bleed for Me.” Ozzy’s new aide de camp is Gus G. and Scream carries an entirely new verve because of him. Okay, so the tradeoff garnishes mixed results, but for Ozzy’s purposes in keeping his body electric pulsing, he needed a fresh attack. Accordingly, Gus G. delivers his boss immediate energy like an icy Red Bull.

Granted, there’s no difference between the low-end chord jerking from Gus, Zakk Wylde, Jake E. Lee or even Tony Iommi on the Sabbath-crunchy “Diggin’ Me Down,” Scream’s heaviest cut. At least Gus opens “Diggin’ Me Down” with a polished acoustic intro which will have long-timers wiping their eyes for the days of Randy Rhodes. Yet the number takes an even deeper dive into the epicenter of Rhodes’ creativity with a brief piano breakdown and prog interlude. Pretty gutsy maneuver for a doom tune.

Where Gus G. opens the gates for Ozzy on Scream are his hip-shaking shreds on the title track, the aquatic opening and back fills on “Crucify” and the feelgood acoustic shakes driving the verses of “Life Won’t Wait.” The latter song tries to merge Ozzy’s mid-eighties groove with sugary pop swoons. Apropos for Mr. Big, but a tad dicey for Ozzy Osbourne, fond of the ballad trip he may be.

If Scream has an inherent fault, it’s a deliberation to be glossy, slick and frankly, too palatable. A yummy Ozzy? Wowzers. The former Prince of Darkness is now the Prince of Shtick, given the sludge-o-matic burp and grind of “Soul Sucker,” which cries skip. “Time” may or may not be Ozzy’s John Lennon moment, but it careens instead of sways, despite the capable furrowing and soloing of Gus G. It’s a ballad which unintentionally becomes farce with Ozzy’s hyperextension and the background “whoo-ooh-oohs,” over-the-top doo wop for a jaded old guard still waiting for another No Rest for the Wicked. Cheers to the Ozzman for thinking outside the box, but ouch.

Scream’s coolest song arrives later in the album almost apologetically for all the soft soaping beforehand. “I Want it More” rocks like hell on the chugging verses (they sound reminiscent of “Thank God for the Bomb” from The Ultimate Sin), even if the off-setting Kiss-like choruses nearly derail the song. “Fearless” would be Scream’s calling card for its step-heavy rock jive and terrific bridge straight out of the glory years, but the slowed-down meathead call-to-arms choruses converts “Fearless” into a plying jock jam. Like the opening song “Let it Die,” you just know the NFL will gobble it up for dramatic commercial breaks, third and long.

“Latimer’s Dream” has a lot planted into it for a cut derived from a few crunch chords, yet the slinky dirtiness backfires behind Ozzy, who brings good game to an experimental crunch and swirl in need of spiffing up.

Another of Scream’s strengths comes on the surefire drumming of former Rob Zombie slammer Tommy Clufetos. While Clufetos was relegated largely to a primary beat pattern in his previous stable, the refurbished Ozzy Osbourne band lets Tommy open up and he has a field day. Rolls, fills, double hammers, polyrhythm, you go, brother. While we're talking Camp Zombie, bass associate Rob "Blasko" Nicholson also hooks up with the Ozz Posse.

If anything, Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne are two of the best in assembling a dream lineup. It’s why you care about Scream, plus riding the hope Ozzy has another Blizzard or Diary left in him, if not an uncovered Ultimate Sin sister slab. Scream will be a fun summer slam for the new generation raised on the Bozo version of Ozzy Osbourne. Those raised on the ostensible demigod of metal Ozzy Osbourne are likely to sigh at the newest caricature while taking comfort there’s at least a rebuilding process at work.

Rating: ***

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