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Ozzy Osbourne - Under Cover Print E-mail
Monday, 01 May 2006
ImageThe cover song. Often it’s a new band’s way to break onto the music scene by giving a fresh sound to a song that is already a proven hit. Limp Bizkit rocketed to fame by covering George Michael’s “Faith” with a metal’d-up mosh pit riot-inciting version. Newcomers Alien Ant Farm made a name for themselves with Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal.” But what happens when an iconic singer whose voice and name are already world famous does not just a cover song, but a complete album of songs by other music icons? We get to find out on Ozzy Osbourne’s appropriately titled Under Cover album, which was given the DualDisc treatment by his record label Epic.

Even if you love the Prince of Darkness with every ounce of your black soul, it’s hard to argue that he isn’t way past his singing prime, and really, he never was the most gifted vocalist in rock music. What he had going for him with Black Sabbath was a band that was heavy as hell, pioneers of heavy metal, way ahead of their time. When he went solo, Ozzy made his biting heads off bats and “"I'm more evil than you” shtick work so well that he continued to sell out enormo-domes around the world and put black concert t-shirts on the backs of young metal fans everywhere. But from a technical standpoint, his vocal range is quite narrow and his “sound” came from a lot of double tracking in the studio.

Which leads us to the inherent problem with Under Cover. Many of the songs here, including Joe Walsh’s “Rocky Mountain Way,” the Beatles’ “In My Life,” Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” and Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love,” have such a vast range of vocalists on the original recordings that to hear them all ground into the Ozzy Osbourne double-tracked, Cher-style vocoder voice effect gets downright monotonous. The arrangements rarely stray from the originals so they all feel very familiar, but I often found myself thinking, “I don’t really love Ozzy’s voice, so why would I want to sit through him singing sub-par versions of these hits?”
Ozzy has always surrounded himself with some pretty talented musicians; here, bassist Chris Wyse and former Faith No More skinsman and longtime Ozzy tour drummer Mike Borden handle the rhythm section. But there isn’t a lot of complexity in these songs, save for the King Crimson tune “21st Century Schizoid Man.” Even casual fans of classic rock radio will probably find this to be the most obscure of the lot but, being somewhat of an art rock connoisseur myself, I found it the most welcome tune on the disc. This partially comes from the fact that a lot of the other songs on Under Cover are simply played out. I can’t even count the number of times I have flipped through the FM dial (before the days of satellite radio) and come across Mick Jagger singing “Sympathy for the Devil” or Leslie West screaming Mountain’s “Mississippi Queen.” And it seems that famous refrain, “Stop, children, what’s that sound?/Everybody look what’s going down” from Buffalo Springfield is in every single anti-Vietnam movie and documentary ever made. Medic! -- get me some smelling salts. The David Bowie-penned “All the Young Dudes,” originally performed by Mott the Hoople, is also one that hasn’t been done to death on radio or on classic rock CD re-issues, so it qualifies as another semi-obscure exception in this batch of tired hits.

I might sound like I'm being a little harsh, so let me also say there are some moments on Under Cover that work on an emotional level. Ozzy will never be the singer or songwriter that John Lennon was, but his love of the legendary musician comes across on John’s “Woman” and “Working Class Hero.” They are the standout vocal performances, as Ozzy’s accent fits Lennon’s words and gives a sense of familiarly to the songs. In fact, a large portion of these tunes are penned and performed by Brits, so they fell easily into the Oz-man's comfort zone. But he seemed to connect best with the Lennon songs.

Extra Features
There are two video clips included on the DVD side of this DualDisc. A video for the song “In My Life” displays hundreds of clips featuring Ozzy, ranging from scenes from the recent MTV series “The Osbournes” to vintage footage of Black Sabbath on and off stage, as well as Ozzy in his solo career prime with the fangs, black eye shadow and water hose for the audience. Intercut with many scenes of his now-famous children as toddlers and his wife Sharon and him in their younger years, it fits so well with the song. We get to see Jack and Kelly Osbourne before they were spoiled MTV reality show stars. We see Sharon before the millions of dollars of plastic surgery and Ozzy before spending millions of miles on the road. At the end of the video, Ozzy, who spends much of it sitting on a park bench by a businessman, a la Forrest Gump, gets up and walks away with his bulldog, whereupon the dog stops and pees on the businessman’s foot -- an obvious reference to the well-known fact that Ozzy’s dogs weren’t exactly the most potty-trained animals you’ve ever seen. The other video clip will be of interest to Motorhead as well as Ozzy fans, as Oz has Motorhead icon Lemmy, Ozzy’s son Jack and some other music industry friends over for dinner and lets the cameras roll. Where were those smelling salts again? I think I stared at Lemmy’s mole more than I noticed or cared about what the dinner guests were saying.

These features are not exactly the most compelling “bonus footage” ever put onto a DualDisc; combine that with the unfortunate fact that this, like many DualDiscs, does not include a surround sound mix, and it’s hard to get overly excited about this release.

The compact disc side has standard 44.1 KHz in stereo, while the DVD side is touted as having “Enhanced Stereo,” which as best as I can figure is simply the same mix as the CD side, except DVDs by their very nature have a slightly higher digital sampling (48 KHz). It sounds incrementally better, perhaps, but nothing that is obviously noticeable.

Ozzy’s vocals, regardless of the song, whether the pop rocker “All the Young Dudes” or the ballad “Woman,” always have the same tonal quality. It’s certainly that Ozzy sound, but it adds to the monotony of the recording.

The guitar tone of former Alice in Chains axe man Jerry Cantrell is warm, fuzzy and full-bodied, and the drum and bass section is above average. This is a solid rock record from a production standpoint, with a few little studio tricks, such as the talking background vocals on “All the Young Dudes” and “Working Class Hero.” But even with great production, there is no way around the fact that the original versions of most of the tunes are so burned into the ears of music fans they completely overshadow Ozzy’s attempts at covering them.

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