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Dated and incomplete - 67%

gasmask_colostomy, July 3rd, 2015

Has Ozzy Osbourne ever been a good singer? When he sung on 'Black Sabbath', was he actually skillful, or was he merely doing something different that all the freaks and nobodies gravitated towards? I'll admit that he sounds creepy and menacing on that very first heavy metal song back in 1970, and that's great, but when he transformed himself into a stadium metal singer with his solo work, he just didn't have the skills to pull off that kind of atmosphere. Thus, it comes down to the albums on which Ozzy does alright and his band do very well to decide when his solo career prospers and when it fails. This one has the same problems as every Ozzy album, though the general quality is a little higher.

First thing's first, I'm not the guy who is going to sit here and go easy on Randy Rhoads. I mean, he's great on this album, but he can't make a song like 'Tonight' fun to listen to. The super-slick likes of 'Over the Mountain' and 'Believer' have awesome licks and skillful playing that bounce and zip between sections and support Ozzy, letting him do his rather plodding or semi-crazy stylings over the top without really disturbing anything. As riffs go, he doesn't often begin with anything too complex, but the simple riffs accrue fills and embellishments that use the one guitar setup to its full advantage and doesn't leave anything missing. The solos are pretty good, though sometimes too generically hard rock to be interesting, as if his creativity was clamped down on by the songwriting. The points when he really shows what he can do are a little rare: perhaps 'S.A.T.O.' is an indicator of the speed metal and NWOBHM directions that were beginning to flourish at this time and is captivating for its length, while the title track is more of an exercise in displaying new ideas, partly on acoustic and partly on electric guitar - at times it reminds me of Pentagram, at times something on the fringes of the extreme scene, and it predates both.

As for the other instrumentalists, Bob Daisley's bass is clearly audible at all times and plays a key part in most of the slower songs, giving at least something to listen to in the awful drone of 'Tonight' and forming the sinister opening of 'Believer'. The drums are rather soft and sometimes lack attack, even if Lee Kerslake is doing his best to stand out. From his point of view, the more energetic songs work much better, such as 'S.A.T.O.', which races forward of its own accord. The keyboards are a notable presence in about half the songs, and add a little, though they annoyingly drive the ballads (two of them, God wept!) closer to soppy Broadway territory, and we're really not here for that.

The quality of songwriting is higher here than on most Ozzy albums, but there are still three poor songs out of eight, which is a distressing percentage. 'Little Dolls' is too Status Quo and footstomping to be anything more than amusing, 'You Can't Kill Rock and Roll' is an average Ozzy ballad, and 'Tonight' is an execrable one that should never have entered the studio, let alone left it. These are also the slowest songs, which the embattled singer struggles the most with, since his band can do less to help him with momentum and their instrumental power. The two openers are perhaps best, with 'Over the Mountain' an out-and-out classic, while 'S.A.T.O.' is the band's most challenging song and actually seems forward-thinking compared to the others. The reason I'm a little harsh on this album is that it just sounds so dated now, and not really because of the recording quality or the instrumental tones, but because the ideas have been left so far behind and have long since entered the hallowed halls of rock and roll cliche. Thus, whatever its celebrated status, 'Diary of a Madman' is just decent at best.