By 1977, things in the Black Sabbath camp were pretty dire, as the band had just about had enough of Ozzy Osbourne's drunken & drugged out behavior, prompting them to bring in ex-Fleetwood Mac/Savoy Brown singer Dave Walker during one of Ozzy's famous disappearances as the new vocalist in the band. Of course, the Ozzman returned once again, and officially took over the frontman role for the last time (or so we thought!), finishing up the mediocre Never Say Die album and subsequent tour in 1978 (with Van Halen as openers) before finally leaving the band for his solo career. Warner Brothers/Rhino have remastered all the original albums from the classic line-up, with Never Say Die being the last in the series. As with all the reissues starting with Vol. 4, these are all single disc releases, with remastered sound and enhanced packaging.
I will say that Never Say Die, no matter how much of a flawed album it is, sounds spectacular here, easily the most remarkable from a remastering standpoint of all the reissues (with Technical Ecstasy coming a close second), bright, punchy, and with a clarity of all the instruments that makes it a joy to listen to. Certainly an odd release to this day, the dark, doomy sound of old replaced by a late '70s hard rock sensibility, the band though still churning out some strong tracks here, starting off with the vibrant, upbeat title cut, easily the most memorable song on the album. Lots of tight riffs and solos from Iommi on this one, and a great vocal from Ozzy. "Johnny Blade" contains some cool synths from guest Don Airey, but it's more of a playful, futuristic rocker than a traditional Sabbath song. "Junior's Eyes" fares a bit better, a bluesy but heavy number with plenty of guitar textures from Tony, and even more revealed in the mix thanks to this remaster. In fact, this song has never sounded better than it sounds here, and Bill Ward's drums really have a clarity that is quite endearing. The hard blues of "A Hard Road" is a fun listen, but overall the tune is somewhat generic, and the same can be said about the heavier "Shock Wave", a decent enough hard rocker but again, there seems to be something missing, as the song is almost too bright and upbeat. "Air Dance" gets things back on track somewhat, a propulsive Ward drum beat drives some tasty Iommi riffing before the song falls into majestic prog waters, while "Over to You" once again sees the band getting all bluesy, complete with some neat Airey Hammond organ. "Breakout" flirts with jazz and even features a brass section (!) in what is one of the most bizarre songs in the Sabbath catalog, and the closer "Swinging the Chain" sees drummer Ward take a lead vocal in what is a grinding blues rocker, also featuring guest harmonica from John Elstar. It's another example of just how short of ideas the band had for this album, and rumor has it that Ozzy hated the song so much he refused to sing it, which is why Ward got the nod.
Overall, too many blues based numbers, a lack of direction, and at times sub-par performances from the band, Never Say Die still manages to contain a few standout tracks, but it's far from vintage Black Sabbath. After Ozzy left, the band regrouped with former Rainbow vocalist Ronnie James Dio, and the rest as we say is history, with a reinvigorated line-up and two classic albums in Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules to follow. As I mentioned above, the packaging here on Never Say Die is very nice, with plenty of photos, commentary, and original artwork, plus great remastered sound on what was a bit of a miss for the original line-up before they completely imploded shortly afterwards.
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1) Never Say Die
2) Johnny Blade
3) Junior's Eyes
4) A Hard Road
5) Shock Wave
6) Air Dance
7) Over to You
9) Swinging the Chain