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More Ozzy than Sabbath
on 27 June 2012
Wow, more than 400 pages of Black Sabbath! Well, think again. Thorough this book may be, but more often than not, the emphasis is on the wrong things, and it soon becomes painfully obvious that Joel McIver simply hasn't done his homework, as the book just doesn't live up to its expectations.
Unlike many other Black Sabbath biographies, McIver's book has the distinctive feature of following both Sabbath's and Ozzy's careers side by side, and after Ozzy's exit from Sabbath, all of his solo albums are discussed as well. It soon becomes apparent that McIver is an Ozzy freak, and despite the title, this is essentially a book about Ozzy, rather than Sabbath.
The book is divided in three major parts: part one covers the original quartet's pre-Sabbath years and the band's Ozzy era up until the Ozzman's departure; part two covers the 80's, while the last part is largely comprised of the post-reunion years (1993 to 2006). Unsurprisingly, the middle part is the shortest, concentrating on the Ozzy-less Sabbath; in sharp contrast, what really is a let-down is the fact that part three is the longest, even longer than part one, and the years 2000 - 2006 are all given their own chapters. Considering that little new Sabbath material was released after the 1997 reunion, this decision really defies logic.
Anyone who's read any of McIver's other works is familiar with the fact that the writer isn't afraid to voice his opinions, and doesn't hesitate to criticise the artists whenever he feels that he has been let down by his favourite bands. However, he usually doesn't really support his arguments in any way, and more often than not, his opinions are difficult to relate to.
Following the pattern of the writer's other band bios, each Sabbath and Ozzy album is analysed song by song. However, perhaps due to the large amount of material, the reviews tend to be rather short, and McIver's analyses are often little more than chronological lists of the songs on each album, followed by brief comments of whether he likes a particular song or not.
Furthermore, the book is littered with mistakes and other inaccuracies: of course, it is by no means unheard of that even the most comprehensive biography has the odd spelling error or wrong date here and there, but the blunders McIver has managed to include in his book are a just plain careless writing. For example, guitarist Zakk Wylde is praised of his ability to adapt to the playing styles of both Randy Rhoads and Jake E. Lee on the "Just Say Ozzy" album - rather puzzling when the album doesn't feature any songs from the Randy Rhoads period. Occasionally, songs are referred to by wrong titles. However, what is by far the biggest flaw can be found in the beginning of the book: when analysing the first Sabbath album, "Black Sabbath," McIver describes "Evil Woman" and "Warning" as promising examples of the band's songwriting, and completely fails to acknowledge the fact that they are covers. For someone who claims to know his Sabbath well enough to write a biography, such a shortcoming is simply unforgivable. Are you listening, Mr. McIver?
Finally, where the book really goes disastrously wrong is when describing the post-1997 reunion years. After the 1999 farewell tour, Black Sabbath remained mostly inactive, apart from a few Ozzfest appearances and other comebacks. What does McIver write about, then? Page after page about the grimace-inducing MTV series, The Osbournes! It seems that after the arrival of the reality show that essentially destroyed Ozzy's credibility as a music performer, McIver seems to forget everything about Black Sabbath. Instead, the reader is bombarded with countless interviews and comments from Sharon, and endless descriptions of Ozzy's kids' lives as celebrities, including a detailed story of Jack Osbourne's trip to rehab (complete with interviews). Excuse me, but wasn't this supposed to be a book about Black Sabbath? Aren't there enough books about the Osbournes already? Inexplicably, McIver even has the nerve to include Kelly Osbourne's albums among his list of "Sabbath-related releases" in the 21st century. When considered that all of this was included at the expense of proper music journalism and in-depth album analyses, the reader can't help but cringe in frustration.
For a fledgling Ozzy fan, the book may have some interesting stories to offer, but for an older Sabbath aficionado, there is little new information on offer. Furthermore, there are just too many mistakes to make this an essential read. What a wasted opportunity.