By Bill Adams
After having a sour taste left in my mouth by the remastered reissue of Ozzy Osbourne’s stellar solo debut, Blizzard Of Ozz, it was with trepidation that I put the remastered edition of Diary Of A Madman into my Discman to review it. I’d had my world rocked by the reissue of Ozz alright, but not in all the right ways; there were many remixed/remastered successes on that album, but the few missteps made were frustrating enough that they threatened to irredeemably taint my impression of the record altogether. I was not eager to have my foundations shaken like that again, but this new Diary Of A Madman proved to uphold the time-honored (and carnal) notion that, while the first time might be a little awkward and a hair painful, the second run is infinitely more pleasurable and gratifying.
On Diary, longtime fans will only have the nitpicking-est, most inconsequential points of contention to complain about, if they have any at all. Those who were dissatisfied with the reissue of Ozz’s sound will be bowled over by the cleaner and modernized but more even mix presented as “Over The Mountain” shoots forward to open the album. Here, Randy Rhoads’ guitar joins Ozzy, bassist Randy Sarzo and drummer Tommy Aldridge in the 21 st century and unleashes a new kind of hell; his guitar sets fires next to Ozzy now and really does the guitarist’s performance justice as every micro-tone rings through cleanly, clearly and perfectly. The joy continues as Ozzy introduces “Flying High Again” with a deadpan “Oh no” before chasing Rhoads’ almost glammy Gibson guitar around every corner in the song.
With the best-known track on the album nailed down this time to provide a sense of relief to those who feared another “Crazy Train”wreck like that on the new version of Blizzard Of Ozz, some listeners might figure that the rest of this reissue’s runtime will just be gravy but, cleaned up as they are here, the album tracks on the Diary Of A Madman reissue yeild some pretty big surprises. The chestnut “You Can’t Kill Rock N’ Roll,” for example, just chimes as the acoustic guitars in the song ring with pristine tones while the crunchy bass of “Believer” will get every listener’s mojo working and the drumming in “Little Dolls” threatens to shatter senses.
Now, to be perfectly fair, the most critical of minds may balk as some of the songs on Madman play through. They’ll quibble that the keyboards and their levels in the mixes seem awkward, but the truth is that they actually benefit the songs situated as they are because they help to build drama in the songs and give a sense of unease when they manifest. Some listeners may whine, but this reissue of Diary Of A Madman is precisely what many fans would hope for in an Ozzy reissue, and proof by positive example of what the Blizzard reissue was lacking; all the tumblers are just in place perfectly here, and the power of the album has been unlocked.
As satisfying at the Diary Of A Madman reissue is (especially stacked against the reissue of Blizzard Of Ozz), the Legacy Edition of the set goes a step further by showing listeners that almost nothing about Ozzy’s first two solo records was dependent on smoke, mirrors or production gimmickry; everyone in the band (especially Randy Rhoads) went to great lengths to remain faithful to the recordings on stage, as illustrated by the live disc appended to Diary Of A Madman. Captured during the Blizzard Of Ozz tour, the live disc informs listeners of just how meticulous Randy Rhoads was about his guitar playing – every damned note is reproduced perfectly on stage – and the band goes out of its way to match him on that endeavor. The resulting album is a genuine work of art; the takes of songs including “Crazy Train,” “Mr. Crowley,” “Believer,” “Flying High Again” (already being played before the release of Diary) and “Suicide Solution” can only be qualified as the definitive live versions of each as Rhoads proves his mastery of his instrument – it’s simply remarkable. Not only that but, as the set ends with covers of Black Sabbath classics “Iron Man,” “Children Of The Grave” and “Paranoid,” listeners are treated to something awesome: a set of songs performed BETTER THAN THE ORIGINALS. Of course, by 1981, Osbourne could sing any of these three tunes in his sleep, but the instrumental performances found here are staggering. Here, Rhoads makes Iommi look like a rank amateur [not sure I agree with you on this Bill – Da Ed], while Sarzo and Aldridge dwarf Butler and Ward with their presence as well. It’s a fine end to a fantastic and revealing set; an excellent addition to the Osbourne catalogue and the sort of treasure that longtime fans have been hoping for.
While the reissued edition of Diary Of A Madman would have been worth fans hearing on its own, the addition of the live disc elevates it to essential listening both for longtime fans and new ones alike. Here, they get the Ozzy Osbourne of his early solo career from every possible angle, and it gives fans new insight as they hear the music reproduced so faithfully and carefully represented. The Diary Of A Madman reissue is the one that every Ozzy fan should own.