Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Ozzy Osbourne - Speak Of The Devil [DVD review]

Released in North America last month on DVD
Speak Of The Devil was recorded for MTV back in June 1982 and had only been available as a Japanese VHS release until now. The North American DVD-only release has been budget priced (about $10-12) and is extras-free, offering up 78 minutes of Ozzy Osbourne's performance at the Irvine Meadows Ampitheatre in Irvine Meadows, California. Ozzy fans finally get a good quality DVD release of the musician at arguably the peak of his post-Black Sabbath solo career, touring in support of his second solo album, Diary Of A Madman. Metal historians will also recognize that the date of this show is just three months after the untimely death of Randy Rhoads, Ozzy's gifted guitarist who died in a tour plane accident along with two others (this show was rescheduled after the accident).
This era of the musician's career has a certain sentimental value to me, as his 1982 Speak Of The Devil album (a double live album of nothing but Black Sabbath songs and not to be confused with this DVD release) was the first Ozzy album I purchased as a 12-year-old after being introduced to him through my brother's cassette tapes of his Blizzard Of Ozz and Diary Of A Madman albums. As much as the greatness of those two albums turned me into a fan, I admit that the deciding factor in my purchase of the Speak Of The Devil album was probably its notoriety-exploiting cover that featured a deranged-looking Ozzy sporting fangs and spewing flesh out of his gob. Remember when a record cover's visual impact had that kind of influence on impressionable kids browsing the record racks with paper route money burning a hole in their pocket? I'm guessing that seeing an album cover's 1" x 1" graphic while browsing the iTunes store has a slightly less powerful effect on today's youth. One more personal recollection about that album: I still remember the worried look on my religious mother's face when I asked her "Who's Lucifer?", after hearing the name mentioned in the song "N.I.B.". You'd better believe I kept my copy of Mötley Crüe's Shout At The Devil album, which I purchased the following year and whose cover featured a pentagram, well hidden.
Despite the turbulent time Ozzy and his band must have been going through, the Irvine Meadows show finds the musicians sounding remarkably cohesive and musically spot-on...perhaps too spot on (more on that shortly). The backing band is made up of bassist Rudy Sarzo (best known for Quiet Riot and Whitesnake), drummer Tommy Aldridge (a phenomenal percussionist with Sideshow Bob hair who, even back in 1982 at the age of 32, looked about 30 years older and is best known for playing with, well, nearly everybody), keyboardist Don Airey, and Brad Gillis on guitar. Due to his short stint in Osbourne's band, Gillis, who would go on to major success with Night Ranger, is an often overlooked guitarist in Ozzy's career, a career that features a who's who of influential metal and hard rock players in Tony Iommi, Rhoads, Zakk Wylde, and to a slightly lesser extent, Jake E. Lee. Here, though, Gillis emerges as the band MVP, flawlessly firing off riff after riff, replicating Rhoads' complicated neoclassical-influenced guitar solos, and throwing in some solid showmanship to boot. Sarzo's over-the-top showmanship, however, wears thin quite quickly, but at least he refrains from pulling out that creepy "lick the bass" move of his. The mid-show guitar and drum solos are mercifully brief.
Playing on a cathedral-themed stage set (with some Spial Tap-ian imagery, such as the "Stonehenge"-ish hooded robe worn by Airey), Ozzy's vocals sound virtually perfect, a most curious fact considering the legendary chemical excesses he was subjecting himself to at the time (a situation that one assumes would only have been exacerbated as he dealt with the recent loss of his musical partner and friend). As the DVD continues to play, there are more and more examples of inconsistent vocal tracks where singing can be heard even as Ozzy has noticeably moved his mouth away from the microphone (a "yeah!" he sings at the end of a verse of "Children Of The Grave" is hilariously out of synch). So clearly, there has been a healthy amount of overdubbing done here to cover up some substandard lead vocals - that does manage to take a little of the shine off the overall viewing and listening experience. A little digging around online reveals that original and undoctored bootlegs of this show have fan feedback on Osbourne's vocal performance that uses descriptors such as "awful", "atrocious", and "embarrassingly bad". While one can fault Ozzy for the degree to which he might have fixed a poor night on the mic, the practice of fixing weak recorded performances is nothing new, especially in the 70s and 80s. In fact, in a 2007 interview with Max Norman, the producer of the album version of Speak Of The Devil, he admits that multiple songs from that recording (which is credited with being recorded at The Ritz in New York City) were actually recorded during soundcheck with crowd noise later added. Another example is KISS' 1975 Alive! album, which lost much of its legendary status (at least for me) when it came to light that a substantial amount of it had also been created at soundchecks and in a studio, facts that the band strangely doesn't seem embarrassed by.
Despite his vocal shortcomings, Ozzy is definitely on his game as far being a great visual presence. His manic energy finds him doing those odd frog leaps and that amusing old man shuffle, while regularly clapping his hands and engaging the audience with shouts of "let me see your hands!" and "go crazy!", repetitive Ozzy staples that I must admit are my least favourite part of his live show. The setlist may be short, but the choice of songs is pretty difficult to argue with, serving up 13 tracks and not a dud in the bunch:
Over The Mountain/Mr. Crowley/Crazy Train/Revelation (Mother Earth)/Steal Away (The Night)/Suicide Solution/Goodbye To Romance/I Don't Know/Believer/Flying High Again/Iron Man/Children Of The Grave/Paranoid
The DVD's video quality is quite good for an early 80s recording and the sound has been remastered in DTS and Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound. The show's presentation does seem to have a bit of a detachment from the audience, with virtually no shots of them (aside from their silhouettes from the back) until the end of the show when the camera finally captures some faces in the Heavy Metal Parking Lot crowd when the houselights go up. Actually, it probably just feels like detachment because so many modern-day video releases feature an excess of crowd reaction shots that rarely add anything to the presentation. The old-school approach here turns out to be rather refreshing, as is the lack of hyper editing that also afflicts far too many of today's long-form music video programs.
Weirdest moments of the show: during "Goodbye To Romance", the prettiest ballad Ozzy has ever recorded, a little person dressed in a hooded robe and ghoulish makeup is "hanged" behind the drum riser. Then the guy just hangs there for the rest of the song with a couple of spotlights on him as the song continues - it's one of the more bizarre stage production choices I've ever seen. And before "Paranoid", Ozzy emerges from underneath the drum riser and shoots off a firework from a super-cheesy glove/gun contraption that he's wearing.
Rating: B-

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