Who would have thought that we would ever have seen a four hundred page book covering the post Ozzy era Black Sabbath? But here it is and Garry Sharpe-Young's Never Say Die! gives me an all new appreciation for some of those less than heralded albums like Headless Cross and Seventh Star.
With hardly a mention of Ozzy Osbourne's walking papers, the text takes up with the recruitment of keyboardist Geoff Nicholls, certainly the most undervalued player in the history of Black Sabbath. In fact, much of the book is biased towards Nicholls remembrances as much as the disappointing Wheels of Confusion was biased towards that of Bill Ward. But Nicholls proves himself to be a wealth of obscure information and he is always forthright when discussing ex band members such as Ronnie James Dio, Ian Gillan and Glenn Hughes. I wouldn't dream of spoiling the many anecdotes sprinkled throughout the book but suffice to say there are many very funny moments and some downright tragedies as well. The period after Ian Gillan left the band to join the reunited Deep Purple was a dark one for Black Sabbath. By the time the band recorded the Eternal Idol album, Sabbath was virtually broke and if it wasn't for Tony Iommi's credit cards (!) things may have turned out much worse than they did. Dwindling album sales, poor ticket sales, bad promotional campaigns and crooked management were just some of the problems plaguing the band. But Sabbath persevered and even if albums like Headless Cross and Tyr would never match Heaven and Hell or The Mob Rules in terms of sales or arguably in terms of content, they are fine records in their own right.
Now, I am granting Never Say Die! four stars. It is a terrific read but it has a couple of problems that may or may not hinder one's enjoyment. First and most obvious is that whoever proofread the book should be fired by Cherry Red Books. There is a typo on nearly every page and sometimes words and phrases are completely omitted from sentences. In fact, looking back I'm wondering if anybody did proofread it!
Unrelated to mechanics, but still frustrating is the text that leads up to the Seventh Star album. Sharpe-Young goes to great lengths to detail the history of every team player in the Seventh Star saga. This is a fine idea but so many band members come and go that the dirt digging is all for naught. Dave Spitz was a minor contributor in the grand scheme of Black Sabbath. Does anyone really need to know the history of his high school band or that he was a champ at pulling chicks? While still in a high school band? Or that Jeff Fenholt and Dave Donato may or may not have been vocalists for Black Sabbath depending on whether Nicholls, Spitz or Eric Singer is telling the story? As informative as the minutia is, it becomes an exercise in tediousness and it takes up more than fifty pages of the book.
While it has its problems, Never Say Die! will likely remain the last word on latter day Black Sabbath. A second edition in which the mechanics are cleaned up will make all the difference. Nevertheless, anyone with even a passing interest in the 1979-1997 era must get their hands on this book. You will learn a great deal even if a scorecard would be helpful in keeping track of all the players!