Friday, December 23, 2011

Late to the Party--Ozzie, "The Parabolic Years: 1975-1982" (2010)

It is easy to see why the Sacramento rock band Ozzie got lost in the shuffle in the late 1970s and early 1980s. They were from Sacramento, California, which is not typically recognized as one of the hotbeds of subversive rock music. Their moniker, Ozzie, might have been confused with that other famous OZZY, the one that was, at the time, Black Sabbath's lead singer. It is also hard to define them musically. I have a feeling that if they were from England, they would have been dubbed a "pub rock" band because of their versatility and their unwillingness to adhere to just one brand of rock music. Also, their quirky sense of humor rarely misfires, but it hardly ever lands either.

If one were to only hear "Android Love," the A-side to their one single (backed by mostly instrumental "Organic Gardening"), released in 1977, they would be unsure why critical or commercial success eluded them. The driving track is relentlessly catchy and possesses a provocative lyric--especially for 1977--about love between man and machine. In an alternate world, this song be talked about with the same reverence held for contemporary numbers like the Sex Pistols' "Anarchy in the U.K.," the Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop," X-Ray Spex' "Oh Bondage Up Yours!" or Richard Hell and the Voidoids' "Blank Generation." With only one other EP credited to the band during their tenure, the bulk of the posthumous collection The Parabolic Rock: 1975-1982 consists of unreleased studio takes and demos.

The band is technically proficient, which allows them to flirt with a variety of styles. Tracks like "Android Love" and the bizarre "Child of the Reich" are glam-inspired numbers comparable to pre-Manifesto Roxy Music. There are prog-rock tendencies on display as well, especially on the aforementioned "Child of the Reich" and the overly long epic "The Ballad of Jack Ruby." Tracks like "Wall," "Faunamania," and "I Love a Tank" are firm new wave numbers. Rockers like "Cookies Rundgren," "Kung Fu Karate Man," and "Terror in the Streets" (which has a riff that Poison sounds like it must have nicked when they wrote "Talk Dirty to Me") obviously show the strong influence of Todd Rundgren. Because they never really settle into one sound, they can come across as dilettantes. The fact that they opened for bands like the Talking Heads and The Nerves makes sense. But it is also easy to understand why they only opened, and never headlined these gigs.

Still, S-S Records has done a great job with this two-record set. Though clearly drawing off less-than-pristine tapes (and a direct vinyl transfer in the case of the "Android Love" single), the records still manage to sound great. The liner notes provide an extensive history of the group and do an excellent job of shaping the context for how Ozzie arrived at their sound. Because of the somewhat steep price tag for this set (around $20-25), I would recommend it to fans of obscure 70s rock, proto-punk, and proto-new wave. While an uneven collection, it is always fun, and the band is tight. The Parabolic Years does make a mildly convincing what if? argument about their place in rock history.

Below is a clip for their Bizarro World classic "Android Love":