Published forty years ago Bark At The Moonthe album that, just a year after the tragic death of guitarist Randy Rhoads, has the impossible task of replacing its predecessors Blizzard Of Ozz (1980) and the critically acclaimed Diary Of A Madman (1981). Ozzy Osbourne has always managed to surround himself with talented musicians, but the success of the previous years had pushed him to the edge of the abyss. Thinking back to that time, the success of Bark At The Moon could well have been his salvation.
There are several versions of this record in circulation. The later version with bonus tracks can be found on Spotify, for example, but originally there are two different records; an American version (CBS Assosiated Records) and a European version (Epic Records). The latter is the record I have. That record does not have the well-known orange/red, but yellow/blue text on the cover. Not the title track, though Rock ‘N’ Roll Rebel is the opener. Center Of Eternity has the title Forever and Spiders (later Spiders In The Night) is the ending. On the other version it is Waiting For Darkness and it says there too Slow Down on. I didn’t know that song at all for a long time.
The period leading up to the release is quite turbulent. Drug and alcohol addicted Osbourne has a bad reputation in the early 1980s. He got into trouble with the law, posed a health risk, bit off the head of a bat, collapsed on stage and lost guitarist and best friend Randy Rhoads in a horrific plane crash. It should have been the final straw, but it wasn’t. Barely two months later, the Prince Of Darkness was on tour again. Guitarist George Lynch (Dokken) is initially convincing, but is put aside again after a short time. Bassist Rudy Sarzo left to rejoin Quiet Riot. Ozzy had to look for a guitarist and a new bassist for the third solo album. Drummer Tommy Aldridge remained seated.
The success of the two previous albums creates enormous pressure. According to the stories, Osbourne was unable to contribute to the songwriting process and relied entirely on new bassist Bob Daisley and producer Max Norman (Death Angel, Megadeth). Advisor Dana Strum (later bassist with Slaughter) had previously introduced Randy Rhoads to Ozzy and brings the unknown Jake E. Lee to the attention. Jake is a flashy guitarist from San Diego who played in an early version of Ratt and then Rough Cutt. He fits perfectly into the era, which is mainly dominated by glam metal. Above all, Jake is a good guitarist. His approach is different from Randy Rhoads. His contribution to the album is much more blues and rock oriented and that fits well with the atmosphere of the album. In my opinion, Jake deserves a lot of respect. In fact, Bark At The Moon and The Ultimate Sin (1986) are the only two Ozzy records in my collection, although Zakk Wylde’s debut is No Rest For The Wicked (1988), certainly a strong album.
Bark At The Moon builds on its predecessor, but also contains new elements. Most striking is the addition of keys. Former Rainbow keyboardist Don Airey (later Deep Purple) does not follow the guitar riffs, but adds his own accents and provides an extra layer to the music, enhanced by the orchestration of Louis Clark (Electric Light Orchestra). Jake E. Lee’s guitar playing is tight, actually a bit more rooted in metal, a bit faster and a bit more melodic. Rhoads’s was actually loose. Bob Daisley’s bass playing is also a bit faster and comes out better.
The album as a whole has the atmosphere of an old horror film, including the mysterious choir singing and the organ playing in the long introduction of Forever. The exception is the whiny ballad So Tired, which in my opinion is the worst song Osbourne ever recorded. It is somewhat typical of Ozzy Osbourne that, in addition to strong songs, there are also tracks on an album that are completely substandard. A very sweet ballad is a standard part of the repertoire. You’re No Different can still get by with it, but So Tired is almost nauseating.
Ozzy is said to have written all the songs himself as a teenager. There may be people who accept this as true, but this statement by wife and manager Sharon Osbourne seems completely unbelievable to me. Sharon wants to give all songwriting credits on the album to her husband, although I am convinced that much of the material was written by Lee. Followed three years later The Ultimate Sin, on which Lee is listed as the songwriter of almost all of the songs. It is not without reason that this legal battle is still dragging on forty years later.
Then-newcomer Jake E. Lee filled Rhoads’ shoes better than anyone, in my opinion. Lee is not a copy and does his own thing. His blistering leads in the uptempo title track easily trump every other song on the disc. In fact, it may be Ozzy’s most signature tune. Forever (or Center Of Eternity) is a close second with a fast and driving tempo. The catchy Rock ‘N’ Roll Rebel takes me back to my teenage years. I preferred to listen to this kind of music when I was doing my homework or studying for tests. It sounds nice and requires little attention. Waiting For Darkness is the foretaste of the style that will follow The Ultimate Sin features.
The album has its moments, but does not really captivate forty years later. Records from the same year, such as Piece Of Mind, Kill ‘Em All and Melissa I still spin, but Bark At The Moon I haven’t taken it out of the case in decades. Surprisingly enough, I do appreciate the dated-sounding keyboard playing, which really fits the typical pop/metal from the early eighties. This also applies to the cover. The Ozz wolf puts a smile on my face. What a weirdo. But this artwork also provides proof that everything Ozzy Osbourne has done before and would do later is, to a certain extent, brilliant.
1. Rock ‘N’ Roll Rebel
2. Bark At The Moon
3. You’re No Different
4. Now You See It (Now You Don’t)
6. So Tired
7. Waiting For Darkness