By Bill Adams
Wow – you think you know someone…. Since going solo in 1979, outside of a few minor alterations to his sound and style that were usually instigated by changes made to his band (from Randy Rhoads to Jake E. Lee to Zakk Wilde, for example), Ozzy Osbourne has been a steadfast image and fixture in metal. He’s been the singer that metal heads have relied on for stability; no matter what everybody else might do or how they may change, Ozzy is the constant. He has been the constant – until now.
Late last year, Osbourne decided to change his game plan from the ground up; he laid off his band- including guitarist Zakk Wilde – and proceeded to recruit an all-new cast of players before he began writing the songs that now appear on Scream. At that time, Obsourne said he wanted a different sound and there’s no doubt in listening that he got it; where his previous work (all of it) was the epic sort of material that would ultimately come to define classic modern metal in its’ style and delicacy, Scream is a harder, blunt object by comparison guaranteed to make long-time fans recoil – that’s almost a given. That’s a bitter pill to take, but Scream doesn’t really go out of its’ way to help itself either, because the songs lack the same polish that previous records boasted; they’re rough. Both “Let It Die” and “Let Me Hear You Scream”will draw a chorus of disbelieving jeers as Osbourne – uncharacteristically doused with electronic treatment on his vocals and fuzzy production surrounding – stumbles and trips through a static minefield of unfamiliar sonic territory that sounds an awful lot like world music crossed with what listeners have come to expect from Rob Zombie, some electronica and Jane’s Addiction (the opening polyrhythms and three note rhythm figure that opens “Let It Die” sounds a bit like “Been Caught Stealing”) which has then been filtered INTO a metallic frame; it’s not metal, but presented as a reasonable facsimile. Fans will start to sharpen their knives as “Let Me Hear You Scream” continues the line of “Let It Die.”
Things look bleak in the beginning, and not in a good way.
Then “Soul Sucker” plods out to be counted and, for some fans, the album’s fate had been sealed; they’ll curse Ozzy for selling them out and say Scream is garbage. They’ll claim that Scream is an exposition of only a shadow of the singer’s former greatness, and saying only that would be charitable in their minds. To be fair, the difference between Scream and Ozzy’s older records does need to be addressed. It’s true that Scream is not your Dad’s Ozzy Osbourne, but it’s not as worthless as some nostalgia addicts would have you believe either.
Let’s be clear: listening to Scream isn’t easy. Even the most open-minded listeners will have difficulty accepting songs like “Life Won’t Wait,” “Time” and “I Love You All” because each of them is one step too far out; “Life Won’t Wait” could easily have been a Live song circa Throwing Copper, “Time” boasts a set of sighs and strings that could easily fit into a Beach Boys song (albeit with some dark clouds on the horizon) and “I Love You All” is barely a song at all. Those already turned off of Scream from the early playing will focus on these tracks which is unfortunate (for them), but Scream isn’t totally without its’ merits. Listeners paying attention will find some decent outgrowth in the forms of “Digging Me Down,” “Crucify,” “Fearless” and “I Want It More” that aren’t VINTAGE Ozzy (they couldn’t hope to be either – guitarist Gus G isn’t even half the player Randy Rhoads was or Zakk Wilde is [not sure I agree with you at all there, Bill – Da Ed]), but they are listenable. Each of those songs tries out some different, previously untested (for Ozzy) sounds for the singer including stoner rock (“Digging Me Down” opens like a Zep tune – and that intro could have been lost on the editing room floor), alt-metal (“Crucify” is a huge guilty pleasure because, while the song itself is pretty weak, it also has one of the best lyric sheets Ozzy has ever written)and scorched earth glam metal similar to that of Rob Zombie (“Fearless”) that don’t play too badly would actually go over pretty well for anyone that isn’t Ozzy. Will his fans recognize that and give the singer a bit of grace distance to try and develop a bit? Only time will tell. Scream is a transitional record, so here’s hoping that Ozzy gets to where he’s going soon so he can start rocking the hell out of people again.