By Bill Adams
Sometimes a classic album can be found in the most unlikely place. For example, back in 1980, the common opinion was that Ozzy Osbourne had had his day; he’d ridden high (really high) with Black Sabbath and, with songs like “Paranoid,” “Iron Man,” “Symptom Of The Universe,” “The Wizard,” “War Pigs” and “Children Of The Grave,” left an indelible mark on rock n’ roll – but Ozzy’s fall from grace as well as the ranks of Sabbath is an equally legendary story. By 1980, the rumor was that Ozzy was washed up and lost in a drug and alcohol-fuelled haze from which a return seemed impossible – but then the singer unleashed Blizzard Of Ozz on an unsuspecting public and got the whole world to change its tune, all at once. Since then, Ozzy has had no small number of enormous victories and, while there have been a few heartbreaks along the way and he has been known to falter, has gone on to be one of the largest defining forces in heavy metal. In the thirty years since Blizzard Of Ozz‘s first release, the album has become the dark horse runner (pun intended) for being one of the greatest, most influential rock records of all time. Even non-fans know Ozzy’s “All aboard!” bellow and the cackling laughter of “Crazy Train,” the ominous/notorious “subliminal message” on “Suicide Solution” and the sweeping, truly evil sounding growls of “Mr. Crowley,” sent into the stratosphere by sweeping, gothic keyboards. These sounds and moments are etched into every rock music fan’s memory; they are moments that everyone loves so – like the catalogues of The Beatles, The Stooges, Jimi Hendrix and so many others – revisiting the production for the purposes of reissue is a risky endeavor. Screw it up even once or mess just the wrong way with the music, and a legion of scorned fans may start screaming heresy as they light torches for a good, old-fashioned lynching.
Whether anything as dramatic as that will actually happen remains to be seen, but there’s no doubt fans will have ample ammunition in the reissued Blizzard Of Ozz, specifically in the treatment of the remastered edition of “Crazy Train.”
That might sound a little ominous, so let’s start with the things that go right on thi reissue. Here, listeners will feel a sudden rush of adrenaline as “I Don’t Know” rumbles out to open the record. Those sceptics who questioned how effective Ozzy could be without Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward behind him won’t just be silenced again, they’ll be knocked dead as Randy Rhoads’ guitar flies clean over the top of any expectation, but the remastered rhythm section of bassist Bob Daisley and drummer Lee Kerslake will be the real story in “I Don’t Know” for seasoned fans. Here, Daisley’s bass has an all-new and perfectly articulated wallop in it and Kerslake’s drums are as solid and beautiful as frsh-from-the-ground crystal shards – smooth, streamlined and sharp. The increased clarity is a result of the remastering job helmed by executive producer Sharon Osbourne as well as veterans Bruce Dickinson and Mark Neuman and, with that opening in hand, pulses will start racing in anticipation of the bigger guns that fans know are on the way from Blizzard Of Ozz. Fans won’t be disappointed by the updated work done to “Mr. Crowley” and “Suicide Solution” either; now, the plainly hard-panning synths that open “Mr. Crowley” fly through both left and right channels with abandon and make for a fantastic (and fantastically gothic) headphone masterpiece while the infamously subliminal “Shoot! Shoot! Shoot!” vocal in “Suicide Solution” pops right out of the mix to reveal some pretty bloodthirsty, nightmarish visions. The additional tracks added to Blizzard‘s runtime prove to bolster the original play of the record rather than just feeling like “fan-only” extras too; “You Looking At Me, Looking At You” is a positively vengeful rocker, while Randy Rhoads gets all the spotlight for the extended solo “RR” and the ’2010 Guitar & Vocal Mix’ of “Goodbye To Romance” foreshadows the later over-used and often-maligned power ballad form in the best possible way: by not simply bowing to a formula.
Listeners and long-time fans will be absolutely thrilled by this updated presentation of Blizzard Of Ozz because it does do a service to the songs – but the catch is that they have to make it by the re-treatment of “Crazy Train” to do it, and that may be a greater accomplishment than many might suspect. To be perfectly fair, a couple of critical listeners may balk at “Crowley” and “Solution,” saying that a little more care could have been put in to clean up the high-end of Randy Rhoads’ guitar, but nowhere is that necessity more plainly apparent than on “Crazy Train.” While other parts of the song (like the tape-looped “I” at the beginning of the song where I swear you can hear someone belch in the background) are painstakingly remixed and remastered to wonderful effect, it’s impossible to miss Randy Rhoads’ guitar – which sounds a little muddy, a little muffled and irredeemably trapped in 1980. Listeners will be shocked (I sure as hell was) as Rhoads climbs up his fretboard and into the sky during his solo break, but somehow seems like it’s only to meet the rest of the band, who is already flying on cloud nine. While the subtleties and nuances that might hang listeners up elsewhere on Blizzard Of Ozz are easy enough to miss, the lopsided treatment of “Crazy Train” may be the thing that causes listeners to turn their stereos off which, given that it’s the second track on the album, means they may miss some perfectly polished gems. Those who do make it through will be richly rewarded but, at the same time, the 2011 remix/remastering job done to “Crazy Train” will likely REALLY piss some Ozzy fans off and (along with the ‘Iggy’ mix of Raw Power) may end up standing as a key argument against the concept of remixed, remastered reissues for a few people. It’s too bad, really, because every other song here has such promise.
Bill Adams is the editor-in-chief of groundcontrolmag.com