Sabbath 'Reunion' with Osbourne is no mere greatest hits

CD REVIEWS

October 22, 1998|By J.D. Considine Blues John Lee Hooker

Black Sabbath

Reunion (Epic 69539)

A lot has changed in rock and roll in the three decades since Black Sabbath first roared out of Birmingham. Amps have gotten bigger, band names have gotten scarier, and metal has gotten heavier. By current standards, the music this band made before singer Ozzy Osbourne flew the coop in 1979 seems almost quaint.

Nonetheless, there's something wonderfully vital about the sound of "Reunion." Bringing Osbourne back together with guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Bill Ward, the double-CD live set marks the first recording this crew has made in 20 years, and the Sabs tear into their tunes with unabashed ferocity.

It helps, of course, that "Reunion" was recorded in Sabbath's hometown of Birmingham. Not only does the crowd join in lustily at points, answering Osbourne's vocals on "War Pigs" and echoing Iommi's guitar on "Iron Man," but it reacts to the band with such unabashed enthusiasm that Osbourne's occasional hectoring ("Louder!") seems almost unnecessary.

Still, where an album was recorded matters far less than where it takes the listener, and in this case, the answer is: back to basics.

Apart from two bonus studio tracks, "Psycho Man" and "Selling My Soul," "Reunion" draws almost exclusively upon classics from the first four Black Sabbath albums. Obviously, these are the most familiar titles in the Sabbath songbook - are there any metal fans who don't know the riff from "Iron Man"? - but the band isn't just playing a greatest-hits show.

Instead, what the four have managed to recapture is the craziness and chemistry that made those songs so startling in the first place. So in addition to a wonderfully demented vocal from Osbourne, this version of "Black Sabbath" finds Iommi, Butler and Ward generating the same kind of improvisational electricity that lit up the original recording. Likewise, there's enough deviltry at work in "N.I.B." to turn even casual fans into head-banging fanatics.

After hearing how good the live numbers are, though, longtime listeners may be a bit disappointed by the two new studio recordings. "Psycho Man" comes closest to classic Sabbath, from the crazed-killer lyric to Iommi's thickly chorded riffage, but its multi-tracked vocals and elaborate melodic structure seem unnecessarily complicated compared with the older material.

But even if these old dogs have trouble with new tricks, it's hard to top the way they do the old ones. ***

The Best of Friends (Point Blank 48424)

Back in the '60s, blues-crazed rockers lived for the opportunity -- to get into the studio and jam with some legend or other. Later, as they learned more about the music they loved, they often looked back with chagrin at how green they were then. Fortunately, John Lee Hooker has allowed some of those rockers to make amends. "The Best of Friends," which mixes three new recordings with tracks collected from his last five albums, finds Hooker playing with everybody from Bonnie Raitt to Carlos Santana, and if the new versions don't quite eclipse the originals, neither do they sound openly imitative, from a fierce "Don't Look Back" with Van Morrison to a snarling "Boogie Chillen" with Eric Clapton. ***

J.D. Considine

Kids

Flumpa's World

Frogs, Rain Forests & Other Fun Facts (Imagination Records 5123-2)

Maybe it's just the jaded opinion of one who has heard more than her fair share of children's music, but "Frogs, Rain Forests & Other Fun Facts" does not do service to the species. OK, how about as that other curious hybrid, environmental music? Frogs, after all, are the cool, endangered creature of the moment. But an elevator is not the environment we're talking about. And bland, easy-listening tunes about a frog named Flumpa and his tropical universe do not do justice to the little guy's plight. Nor do lyrics like: "Life as a reptile or an amphibian/On the land or in the water/They're so different/But similar in many ways." Nature is infinitely more complex and less benign than this collection suggests. On the kid front, the green front and the honesty front, Flumpa is a flop. *

Stephanie Shapiro

Pop/rock

Cypress Hill

IV (Columbia 69037)

The members of Cypress Hill are hardly the best role models in hip-hop. According to their raps, they smoke dope, enjoy nasty sex and settle scores with violence. So how come the group's fourth album, "IV," is such fun? It helps that this crew never takes itself too seriously, pushing its bad-boy image almost to the point of parody and peppering the album with Cheech & Chong-style comedy. That's not to say Cypress isn't serious; "Looking Through the Eye of a Pig" offers a sobering view of the price rappers pay for having an outlaw image. But the album's real strength is the chemistry between B. Real, Sen-Dog and D.J. Muggs, whose interplay ensures there's always a jolt of electricity beneath each deep-thumping groove. ***1/2

J.D. Considine

Des'ree

Supernatural (Sony/550 Music BK-69508)

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