Judge Gordon Sullivan had a ticket on the Crazy Train, but it was overbooked.
Fully authorized release of this historic concert!
Ozzy Osbourne has not led an easy life. From growing up in a poor, industrial part of England to years of drug-addicted musical turmoil, he's not had the best luck. I can't speak for him personally, but from my fan perspective, the darkest day of his musical career would have to be the death of Randy Rhoads. Ozzy had just left Black Sabbath and formed a kick-ass solo band with the neoclassical stylings of Rhoads front and center. Two solo albums followed (Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman) that, while not quite as groundbreaking, could stand tall next to any album by Osbourne's former band. Riding high from these albums and about to embark on a tour, Rhoads was killed in an accident with a small aircraft in December 1981. The show, however, must go on, and Ozzy and his band (with replacement guitarist Brad Gillis) embarked on a six-month American tour, a tour which culminated in a show in the summer of 1982 at the Irvine Meadows in California. This show is documented in Ozzy Osbourne: Speak of the Devil, and it's a must-have for fans.
Mixing a set list that relies heavily on his first album ("Mr Crowley," "Crazy Train," "Suicide Solution") and some Sabbath songs ("Iron Man" and "Paranoia"), Speak of the Devil is vintage Ozzy in the early '80s. He's flying here without a net: he's not with is former band, and he's just lost a friend and trusted co-conspirator. Though the world knows him now as the loveable crank from The Osbournes, there was no indication in 1982 that he wouldn't fade into obscurity, finishing out his days playing lounge version of Sabbath tunes to aging hippies.
As if he could envision such a fate, Ozzy refused to go gently into that good night. Speak of the Devil finds him burning the candle at both ends. The track list is nearly perfect for this period with an effective mix of newer material ("Over the Mountain"), well-received solo songs ("Crazy Train") and those few concessions to his role in Black Sabbath. Little has changed about Ozzy's performance throughout the years. He stalks the stage, claps his hands, mugs with his bandmates, and sings his heart out. He's in fine voice and he owns these songs like he's been playing them for decades rather than years.
At the time, Speak of the Devil was one of the more ambitious tours making the circuit. Not quite KISS, but close: there's a mock-medieval backdrop, the drums are on an impossibly-high riser, and there is fog and lasers galore. The spectacle looks a bit cheesy three decades later, but that's been Ozzy's stock-in-trade almost from the beginning. He's always been a touch theatrical, and that kind of theater never takes itself too seriously.
Though Rhoads is obviously missed, the other band members hold their own with the songs. The de rigueur drum/guitar solos are impressive. More importantly, the band does an excellent job of recreating the sound and tone of the studio versions of these songs without making them sound like karaoke covers.
The back of the box proudly proclaims this as a "Fully authorized release of this historic concert!" Judging by the presentation, you'd never know it. The video appears to be sourced from a VHS master. Colors are smeary, black levels deep but lacking in detail, and the overall picture lacks sharpness. Honestly, though, I didn't care one bit. If anything, the less-than-stellar presentation of the video actually helped the concert, smoothing over some of the rougher, '80s-inspired fashion choices. More importantly, the full-frame transfer from VHS gives the show a cultish aspect, like watching a bootleg back in '82. That kind of nostalgia only helps the show. The sound, on the other hand, is almost perfect. Whether you choose the DTS (5.1) or Dolby (2.0 and 5.1) option, you'll get a well-mixed, surprisingly clear presentation of the concert. The top end is well-defined, never letting Ozzy's vocals get muddied with the guitar, and the low end has good presence and lots of thump.
The set's lone extra is a short essay in an included booklet by Ozzy's bassist Rudy Sarzo. He discusses the tour and what it was like to play in the wake of Rhoads' death. It's a nice addition, though I can't help but wish to hear from Ozzy on the concert and that period in his life.
Of course there's very little about Ozzy Osbourne: Speak of the Devil that will woo non-fans. Ozzy is still Ozzy, barreling through a set of tunes that are at once socially conscious and slightly demonic. Yes, he's a bogeyman, but he's also a bit Jiminy Cricket. Those not into his songs of drugs and death should pass by in silence.
For fans of Ozzy Osbourne, Speak of the Devil is essential. The maestro is in fine form, the set list is almost perfect, and not even the absence of Randy Rhoads can keep the band from sounding tight. Though some might quibble about the video presentation of the show, the audio (where it really counts) is great. Worth a purchase for fans.
Guilty, like all the best Ozzy.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
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