Monday, February 26, 2007
To paraphrase the Dayglo Abortions, reading about Black Sabbath is lots of fun. Rat Salad: Black Sabbath—The Classic Years, 1969–1975 is a mad thing, that's for sure. I've devoured it like a handful of fig newtons. Wait, that doesn't sound very metal. Oh well, author Paul Wilkinson doesn't come across as all that diabolical himself. The book weaves together a few different threads. First, it's a dissection of Sabbath's catalogue, album by album, song by song...but only the first six albums. Wilkinson doesn't hold truck with anything post-Sabotage. I'd push for the remaining two Ozzy-era albums, but hey, it's Paul's book. Second, it's a Sabbath biography, pulling in material from a variety of secondary sources in time-honoured rock bio tradition. Wilkinson's innovation in this respect is setting Sabbath's career amidst the world events of the time—Vietnam, the oil crisis, Watergate, and so on. Finally, it's an autobiography. As the Sabs graduate from Hamburg's Star Club to the a-list touring circuit, our author savours his first kiss, cracks his head open and convalesces in hospital, experiences a death in the family (admittedly a very moving passage in the book), cops his first feel, and finally gets to see his heroes in concert (on the Never Say Die tour, where the PA packs it in after an hour).
The jacket blurb likens the book to Ian MacDonald's Revolution in the Head meets Spinal Tap, which is kind of a cheap shot. I'd drop the Spinal Tap reference, and leave intact the comparison to MacDonald. Wilkinson's musical analysis is extremely credible and thorough, and he doesn't skimp on the criticism. Underwritten songs, failed experiments, and bad lyrics are lamented almost as often as the classic songs come in for praise. While "Supertzar" "sits on Sabotage like a Sunday painter's worst watercolour in a room full of Vermeers," "Killing Yourself to Live" contains "a whole album's worth of music...that hangs together in a, quite literally, breathtaking manner."
Sometimes Wilkinson's footnote-heavy, chatty approach makes his book seem like it contains an entire lifetime's worth of writing, but really, I want to hand it to the guy for penning one of the most enjoyable and necessary rock books I've read in quite a while.