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Friday, May 5, 2023

The National Continues to Push the Envelope

Written by Jon Williams

Last week the indie rock band the National thrilled fans worldwide with the release of their ninth full-length album, First Two Pages of Frankenstein. The title was created by frontman Matt Berninger. Struggling to write lyrics for a new album, he turned to his bookshelf for inspiration and found a handful of words and phrases that spoke to him in Mary Shelley’s classic novel. It was the breakthrough he needed. The result is an 11-track disc that features contributions from Sufjan Stevens, Phoebe Bridgers, and Taylor Swift.
Although the members (Berninger [vocals], brothers Scott [bass] and Bryan Devendorf [drums], and twin brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner [guitar/piano]) all grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, the band formed in Brooklyn in 1999. They released two albums (The National and Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers) and an EP (Cherry Tree) as they honed their craft and refined their sound.
After signing with Beggars Banquet Records in 2004, the National hit their stride. In 2005, Alligator raised their profile by appearing on several publications’ lists of albums of the year (and eventually the decade). They saw similar critical acclaim from the breakout album Boxer in 2007, and skyrocketed into the public consciousness when an instrumental version of “Fake Empire” was used in Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign for the presidency. They followed that up in 2010 with High Violet, and their tour in support of that album was chronicled in the 2013 documentary Mistaken for Strangers (currently unavailable) made by Tom Berninger, Matt’s brother.
Now bona fide indie darlings, their music began to show up in more and more places, including over the closing credits of an episode of Game of Thrones, the Boardwalk Empire soundtrack, and on The Bob’s Burgers Music Album. They scored their first Grammy nomination for 2013’s Trouble Will Find Me, and won Best Alternative Music Album for the 2017 follow-up, Sleep Well Beast. Then, instead of taking a break as they had planned, they came back quickly, in 2019, with I Am Easy to Find, a collaboration with director Mike Mills, who used the album’s soundscape as the background for a short film of the same name.
The band hasn’t been idle since. They wrote the music for the 2021 film Cyrano, which features their single “Somebody Desperate.” They’ve also kept busy individually with side projects, some of which have been quite notable. In 2020 Matt Berninger released a solo album, Serpentine Prison. Aaron’s high-profile projects included cowriting and coproducing Taylor Swift’s Grammy-winning album folklore and its follow-up, evermore (which featured the National on the track “Coney Island”), as well as Ed Sheeran’s latest, among several others. He also recorded an album (also featuring a Taylor Swift appearance) with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon as Big Red Machine, How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last?
And we may hear more from the National as they kick off a world tour this month. Members of the band have said they wrote a lot of good songs that didn’t make the new album, and hinted that it may be released soon in some form. In the meantime, fans new and old have plenty of music to dig into. Click the links above for their albums, or SmartBrowse on our website for more.

Friday, February 10, 2023

Ups and Downs for Ozzy Osbourne

Written by Jon Williams

On February 1, the legendary hard rocker announced his retirement from touring, citing spinal injuries that have left him unable to endure the necessary travel. While Ozzy said the announcement was “one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to share,” at least it was followed up rather quickly with some good news. On February 5, he won two Grammy Awards: Best Metal Performance for the song “Degradation Rules,” and Best Rock Album for his most recent, Patient Number 9—a star-studded affair featuring contributions from Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Zakk Wylde, and the late Taylor Hawkins, to name just a few.

Ozzy’s career began in the late 1960s when he joined up with guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler, and drummer Bill Ward in a band that went through many names before finally settling on Black Sabbath, after the film of the same name. Inspired by that movie, they decided to take on a heavier sound and explore darker themes in their music. As a result, their self-titled debut album, released in 1970, is generally considered to be the birth of the heavy metal genre.

They refined that sound on their second album, Paranoid (currently unavailable on CD), released later in 1970 (early 1971 in North America). Propelled by now-iconic hits like “Iron Man,” “War Pigs,” and the title track, it is regularly cited among the best (and most influential) rock and metal albums of all time. The band followed that up with Master of Reality in 1971, their third album in quick succession, then took a quick break before returning with Black Sabbath Vol. 4 in 1972, incorporating new sounds. They would go on to put out four further albums—Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (1973, currently unavailable on CD), Sabotage (1975), Technical Ecstasy (1976), and Never Say Die! (1978)—before internal conflicts drove Ozzy from the band. He later reunited with most of the original members to tour and record the 2013 album 13.

After leaving Black Sabbath, Ozzy’s musical career would go on to reach even greater heights. Forming a new band including guitarist Randy Rhoads, his 1979 debut solo album, Blizzard of Ozz, contained the rock classics “Crazy Train,” “I Don’t Know,” and “Goodbye to Romance.” His second, 1981’s Diary of a Madman, included “Flying High Again.” Sadly, those were the only two albums to feature the guitar work of Rhoads, who was killed in a plane crash (along with two members of the band’s touring crew) early in 1982; the album Tribute, featuring a collection of songs recorded live, was released in 1987 in his honour.

Saddened by his friend’s passing, Ozzy nevertheless soldiered on. Jake E. Lee came on as guitarist for 1983’s Bark at the Moon and 1986’s The Ultimate Sin (currently unavailable on CD). He then teamed with Zakk Wylde for the first time on 1988’s No Rest for the Wicked, a partnership that has endured, in various forms, through to now. He was the primary guitarist on four more Ozzy studio albums—No More Tears (1991), Ozzmosis (1995), Down to Earth (2001), and Black Rain (2007)—in addition to several live albums, and has performed and recorded with him ever since.

Heavy metal is something of a niche genre, but Ozzy’s outlandish persona and antics gave many people at least a passing familiarity with him. He became a full-fledged household name with the 2002 debut of the MTV reality series The Osbournes (currently unavailable on DVD). Depicting the regular daily life of Ozzy, his wife and manager Sharon, and their kids Jack and Kelly, the show ran for four seasons and brought the singer even further into the spotlight.

Ozzy is no stranger to accolades—his two wins this year give him five Grammy Awards for his career. And Black Sabbath was enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006. While his touring days may be over, he has indicated that he would like to find a way to perform without the rigours of travel. In the meantime, music fans everywhere will continue to enjoy and discover his music. Use the links above to put his music on your shelves for patrons, or SmartBrowse his name on our website for all we have to offer, including concert videos, books by and about him, and so much more.