Released on the 10th June, but streamed over the last few days, like thousands and thousands out there I have been listening to Black Sabbath’s latest 13 and Ozzie’s long awaited return to the band after 35 years. I was asked today if I like it – the obvious question to address in this review – and I think I prevaricated far too much, though essentially I gave an appropriately paradoxical answer. I do and I don’t. As I said of single God Is Dead? it is both wonderful and ludicrous.
As someone who still recalls the brilliance of hearing that first album, aged 15, I can’t possibly retrieve the same ecstatic enthusiasm for this album that tries so hard to recreate the original sound, which it does so effectively. Interestingly as I write, I’m listening to fifth track Age Of Reason – very loud – and this is proving pretty damn cool as it is in many ways least like the music of Sabbath’s first LP which other tracks echo so closely, like opener End Of The Beginning. One thing I’ll say from the off: when Tony Immoni lets loose on any one of these eight songs it is beautiful to hear.
Part of my less enthusiastic response is in finding the lyrics preposterous. Perhaps when I was 15, semantics weren’t really an issue when it came to heavy music. The titles of four songs on 13 declare the pretentions of the pseudo-philosophising: End Of The Beginning; God Is Dead? Zeitgeist; Age of Reason. And the line Is this the end of the beginning, or the beginning of the end, losing control or are you winning, is your life real or just pretend...reanimation of the sequence, rewinds the future to the past....yada yada yada...and I’m chuckling knowingly rather than headbanging mindlessly.
I know this is the wrong approach! I know. Perhaps it’s also knowing so much about Ozzie these days – that reality TV programme; the interviews; seeing a clip of his live performance at Perth this year where his oblivion is worrying and pathetic - his singing live is dreadful. Knowing makes this contemporary packaging of the Black Sabbath sound too disingenuous for me.
But the thumping with harmonica and now Immoni scorching a solo on Damaged Soul playing still loud as I type pulls me in for that momentary escape back to times before, and it is enjoyable. Even far out. But the reality is it just makes me want to put that first album on – always the best and favourite without any question – and then dip in and out of the next three.
The album’s ending on a thunderstorm and tolling bell is neither satirically aware nor metaphorically significant. We clearly understand by now that much on this album is judicious pilfering from the past, and it will obviously be their last offering. This explicit echo from the start of their debut and iconic gem is a mistaken gesture in pathos.
So I’ve just put Age Of Reason on again, louder.