This for me has always been Ozzy's solo masterpiece. The album has it all: superb, ambitious songwriting, timeless production, musical light and shade (operatic solos, classical arpeggios and country twangs alongside ear-splitting metal) plus some of Ozzy's career-best vocals. I got it on original release and it was years before I heard the background to Ozzy's finest hour: Main songwriter and bassist Bob Daisley was sacked just as the album was finished, along with drummer Lee Kerslake. Neither was mentioned on the album sleeve, instead new recruits Rudy Sarzo and Tommy Aldridge were credited and pictured. Daisley was never paid valuable production or performance fees and to cap it all, the remastered 2002 CDs removed all traces of Daisley's superb bass playing (his Believer and Tonight intros are gorgeous) as well as Kerslake's perfectly pitched drumming - his crime being to side with Daisley in their dispute.
Needless to say, the 2002 remasters were a travesty and Ozzy's vandalism of his own career-best was scorned by all of his non-reality show fans. This clearly wounded Oz and the low-point of his otherwise great autobiography was, for me, his shabby attempt to excuse his treatment of his band mates, which he'd previously blamed on Sharon. The news of this re-remastered edition (ie restoring the original bass and drums) had me thinking there must have been some kind of reconciliation. Maybe now, we'd have the full mea culpa alongside some words of rapprochement with Ozzy's best collaborator outside Sabbath. No such luck sadly: there are no photos of Daisley or Kerslake, no 'making of' story, no discussion of the feuds, bad behaviour or lessons learned. Daisley and Kerslake have apparently not even been consulted over this release, so presumably they still won't get paid for their contribution. 'Glories overdue' as Daisley aptly put it in 'You Can't Kill Rock and Roll'
Politics aside, how does this 2011 remaster sound? Utterly superb is the answer. If anything, Daisley's original bass is more prominent, which makes the whole album sound less dated and 80s. I've listened to this release on a variety of stereos and it sounds as exciting and vibrant as it did back in 1981. Ozzy's vocals, Randy's searing and chilling lead licks, Bob and Lee's perfectly matched rhythm backing and the array of non-metal contributions (country slide and classical guitar, Johnny Cook's uncredited keyboards, the Orffian-chorus in the title track) all sound crystal clear. As do the odd timing fluff, which is a testament to its gloriously analogue heritage.
So what about the bonus CD? Well, it seems to be drawn from various dates on the 1981 tour, but more than that it's difficult to say. The sound isn't as good as the Tribute
album - hence why that gig was released originally I suppose. Sadly, the setlist is the same as Tribute, just without No Bone Movies. It would have been good to hear the 1981/82 live versions of Over the Mountain, Rock'n'Roll Doctor, You Lookin' At Me Lookin' At You or Back Street Kids, but given the high notes in those tracks, maybe Ozzy wasn't happy with his pitching. He's on great form on the released tracks though - even if there's the whiff of re-recording on at least some of the vocals. Randy Rhoads is simply possessed - absolutely on fire. Tommy Aldridge's drumming is less subtle than Lee Kerslake's, I could probably have lived without hearing another of his take-no-prisoners 4 minute drum solos.
A great and long overdue restoration of a classic then. I hope one day Ozzy will be man enough to right some of his (or Sharon's) past wrongs. In the meantime, just stick this on and revisit Ozzy's glorious post-Sabbath peak.