Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Black Sabbath - Never Say Die!

Things had gotten so bad for Black Sabbath during Technical Ecstasy that the members of the band had decided to replace Ozzy with the singer of Savoy Brown.

Black Sabbath’s management (Sharon’s dad) suddenly realized “Who the fuck is Savoy Brown?” and, in an effort to save their famous client, pleaded to the band to call up Ozzy and reconcile.

While the band agreed, Osbourne proved to be just as unreliable as before, telling the band that he would resume his role in Black Sabbath while having nothing to do with any of the material they may have began with his replacement vocalist.

He also advised them that he had no material of his own to provide them.

The end result is the ironically titled Never Say Die! A hodgepodge collection of spliced together song bits, questionable new musical directions and a general malaise that seemed to take hold of every member that showed up to record the proceedings.

Generally dismissed by Sabbath fans, I revisited the album as the 2013 reunion tour’s imagery utilized much of the same visual concepts of this record, while completely avoiding any of Never Say Die’s material on stage.

Is it different than any other Sabbath record? Definitely. Was this difference a result of the band’s ambivalence towards their management’s demands to shit out another record? Absolutely.

But unlistenable? Hardly.

Never Say Die! Features a very compelling display of the band throwing ideas against the wall…any idea…just so they could get to the 40 minute mark and call it a day.

Further, the band found themselves booked in a Canadian studio in the dead of winter (cheaper rates) with a dead drum room and dead ambitions.

It eerily resembles the same decision that fictional group Spinal Tap undertook when lead guitarist Nigel Tuffnel left due to “creative differences.” Like the Tap’s foray into a new direction (“Jazz Trilogy”), Sabbath hired Don Airey to tinkle some ivories, let Iommi fart around with a few jazz chords and even did the unthinkable by tapping Wil Malone to help out with arranging a brass section for “Breakout.”

The new direction and panic makes for a record that is unlike anything else in the band’s catalog, to the point that drummer Bill Ward admits “All the songs are history now” on Never Say Die’s closing track, “Swinging The Chain.”

You read correctly, Bill Ward ends the proceedings with another track that Ozzy refused to sing.

It actually begins with a rollicking  title track that ranks as good as anything else in the band’s material, and there’s at least two other tracks that will satisfy most fans of Sabbath’s early material.

It’s the controversial mellow cuts like “Air Dance” and the other keyboard-laden titles like “Johnny Blade” that remain divisive among loyal headbangers-and these tracks do require an open mind.

For a record that sounds so tempestuous on paper and so schizophrenic on the playback head, Never Say Die! can be a fascinating glimpse into what Sabbath could have sounded like had they followed some of the new directions they tentatively touched upon.

This isn’t to suggest these would have been good directions, just different.

It has aged remarkably well and is, at least, on par with another dinosaur act that experienced a similar creative dry-sell: Led Zeppelin and their final offering In Through The Out Door.

Bill Ward seemed to foreshadow how the record would be received during his vocal take, declaring “We’re sorry that it ended that way” during “Swinging The Chain.” They may have not liked the end result-and the record’s follow-up with new vocalist Ronnie James Dio is unquestionably the best Sabbath album since the locomotive roll of the band’s first four releases.

But despite its obvious flaws and drama-filled back story, Never Say Die! is an overlooked example of how good Black Sabbath could be, even when they were on life support.

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