My Year In Music - 2015

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Black Sabbath – Cross Purposes [1994]

Since Ozzy left, Black Sabbath has undergone so many personnel and stylistic re-alignments that much of the music produced since has only caught me on the rebound.

We all know that Black Sabbath is Ozzy, Tony, Geezer and Bill… and then Ronnie, and Vinnie, then Ian, then Glenn, Dave, Eric and Tony. Then Cozy and so on. However, Tony Iommi has been the only constant member of the group. In a way we should be grateful for Iommi’s willingness (and ability) to keep the Black Sabbath brand going, and through that – for some reason – we don’t readily remember all the versions of the band. It’s usually just the war between Ozzy and Ronnie.

Both Born Again from 1983 and Seventh Star from 1986 were almost released under Iommi’s own name, but – probably fortunately – it was decided that releasing them as Black Sabbath albums was better for business. By the time Seventh Star was released – Tony Iommi was the only original Black Sabbath member left in the band, so its release as a Black Sabbath album is even more significant in terms of ‘keeping the name alive’. In fact – it was released as ‘Black Sabbath featuring Tony Iommi’. It’s a little absurd, really, but anyway…

In 1994, Black Sabbath was a powerful melodic rock band. And a good one at that. Cross Purposes is one of those albums that may have eluded Black Sabbath fans and other rockers due to all the band’s re-alignments. You need to be able to look at much of the post-’83 Black Sabbath from a non-Black Sabbath viewpoint. There’s no Ozzy, and only a little Geezer, Bill and Ronnie. And no Ian. For Cross Purposes, we almost have a collective. And that’s alright. Remember – we’re not thinking Black Sabbath; we’re thinking a group of rock dudes with Tony Iommi on guitar. That’s pretty cool.

The album takes no time to get the tone set. ‘I Witness’ rocks pretty hard from the word go. With a solid beat, fluid rhythm, powerful soaring vocals and blistering guitar antics. Iommi’s playing is menacing. ‘Cross of Thorns’ and ‘Virtual Death’ remind us a bit of Ronnie with its medium tempo plod with wailing vocals. ‘Psychophobia’ could have come from the Born Again era. The vocals on ‘Evil Eye’ get a little bluesy – but the slamming plod and creeping bass-work keep it tidy. Geezer Butler had made it back to the line-up at this point, and if you have any idea – you’ll know how Geezer can fill a space.

Co-producer Leif Mases’ previous engineering credits list an interesting array of artists including Ian Gillan, Jeff Beck, some random glam rockers, a Swedish artists with a complicated name, and Frida (from ABBA)! Don’t laugh! That’s not important right now. What is important is that he was also involved in engineering Led Zeppelin’s In Through The Out Door and Coda. Yeah! Actually the other stuff is important because it should give you an idea of the thoroughness of his work, and in turn, this production. The sound is full, well constructed and nicely detailed. So Leif was a good choice.

As a handful of bands did in the Nineties – there’s the seemingly obligatory nod to Led Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’ that appears as a little part of the body of ‘Cardinal Sin’, but all is good. No funny business like with Kingdom Come…

There are no apparent weak points here. This is a solid heavy rocking album, but it is quite understandable if you missed it. I did. If you know Eternal Idol, or are coincidentally lucky enough to be familiar with Jake E. Lee’s band Badlands’ first album – this fits more or less into the same bracket.

Worth three packets of cigarettes and a reasonable bottle of vodka. Lekker.

Black Sabbath – Cross Purposes [1994]
Black Sabbath – Cross Purposes [1994]

Black Sabbath in 1994
Black Sabbath in 1994

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Racism Aside…

Sometimes I have other things to say. This is not music related. Proceed with care.

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Sandra Bernhard - Excuses for Bad Behavior Part 1 [1994]

You may think this is a strange place to start my album based reviews, but all things considered – what did you expect?!

Sandra Bernard was once notoriously well known for being a hot lesbian who had a thing with Madonna. Right? Actually, she’s a stand-up comedienne who has been active since the late Seventies; has appeared in a Martin Scorsese film [The King Of Comedy]; featured on Roseanne for six years; been in Playboy magazine and has released a string of albums – two of which are music – the rest comedic. She was most successful during the Nineties. She’s still pretty active, but the list would be long, so look it up yourself.

‘Excuses for Bad Behavior Part 1’ is Ms Bernhard’s first release that concentrates on music and – for the most part – is a bit random and awkward. However, there are a couple of tracks which are quite plausible and can easily get lost in the mix. Here – if you’re not a pre-determined fan – you clearly have to be selective to get to the better stuff.

Production by Mitch Kaplan and Derrick Smith and Ted Jensen’s mastering skills have made the album really cohesive, which – maybe strangely – makes it easier for the good stuff to get lost.

The first track that really catches your attention – ‘Manic Superstar’ – is a mash-up of sorts of Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Manic Depression’ and ‘Everything’s All Right’ from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar. This is a pretty clever mix and believably pulled off.

A couple of cool lounge-y / disco-y tracks [‘You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)’, ‘Who Knew’ and ‘Prophecies’] are good for background music while having cocktails on the balcony and might lead to a little unconscious foot-tapping, but when Sandra tries to get all serious [‘Innocence’, ‘The Letter’] – you’re either going to get teary eyed, or you’ll take the CD out of the player and burn it. Some of her references – to herself and the ‘lesbian community’ – are mildly entertaining, though.

Sandra’s ability to sing should not be questioned. Just her ability to find an audience within a music loving community. She just hops around between commitments too much to maintain musically cohesive integrity.

Sandra’s interpretation of ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ is almost beautiful. It’s lounge-y, clear and sincere. That might sound odd. Too bad. It’s one of my favourite Rolling Stones songs, and I’m not often impressed by cover versions.

’50 Ways To Leave Your Lover’ is another cover, and also one of the better executed tracks on the album. Sandra is good at performing other people’s songs. Her selections here are suited to her and she does them with a sense of confidence that is not present in the own songs.

Unless you’re a huge fan of Sandra Bernhard – don’t pay more than the price of a packet of cigarettes for this album (if you can find it…).

Sandra Bernhard - Excuses for Bad Behavior Part 1 [1994]
Sandra Bernhard - Excuses for Bad Behavior Part 1 [1994]
Sandra Bernhard
Sandra Bernhard