Ozzy Osbourne

Times Staff Writer

Sobriety, injury and family headaches have not blunted the Ozzy edge. Aside from a pair of bloated ballads wherein lifelong basket case Osbourne unconvincingly proffers himself as a pillar of strength, "Black Rain" is largely worth the six-year wait for new originals.

True, only two songs kill, and they're the only ones Ozzy and co-producer Kevin Churko wrote without guitarist Zakk Wylde: "God Bless the Almighty Dollar" stomps like a giant robot crashing through riff thickets, an eerie piano interlude and a sarcastic chorus melody; and the album pitches to a heart-pounding conclusion with the muscular effrontery, punching-bag rhythm shifts and ear-biting tunefulness of "Trap Door."

But even if the rest lacks the same dynamism, it rocks ruthlessly thanks to Wylde's warhead guitar riffs and squirming-weasel solos, and the atmosphere slogs armpit-deep in sepulchral reverberations, sick-ax textures and nagging Bombay drones. Ozzy's doomy complaint of a voice, suspect in recent years, sounds supple, even gymnastic.

The lyrics? Ozzy's been watching TV and fears we're spiraling down the sewer — news it ain't. At 58, though he's felt he was dying for decades, he sings that he's still "not going away."

"Black Rain" can't be compared with Ozzy's early-'80s work, falls just below the mark of 1991's "No More Tears," and floats close to the level of his other major statements over the last two decades — all different, all unbalanced, all good.

— Greg Burk

Albums are reviewed on a scale of four stars (excellent), three stars (good), two star (fair) and one star (poor).

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