Last year, Black Sabbath did something that numerous people around the world, myself included, had been breathlessly hoping they would do since 1997 or 1998. That is, they released a whole album consisting of new compositions.
The reaction from the mainstream press was bewildering to me. “Waaah they are not doing anything new?”. Really, mainstream press? Because from where I sit, tens of thousands of bands have done that in their place. Sabbath’s need to do something new or different is therefore minimal. (Let us not forget that there is very little in doom metal or black metal today which the mainstream press mistakes for new or exotic that Sabbath did not already do in some form.)
Truthfully, I love most of 13, the album that Black Sabbath released in 2013. Most of it is not their A-list material, granted, but seven out of the eight songs that Black Sabbath felt were good enough to make the final cut of 13 are basically Black Sabbath dropping their pants and taking a good hard shit on everything that Apple and the RIAA feel so compelled to push at us as the definition of harder music.
Loner is the third song on 13. Before it, two songs come that are worthy to stand with every song on Paranoid.
First, End Of The Beginning:
Second, God Is Dead?:
Here is a video in which Tony and Geezer explain the songwriting process of Black Sabbath and how this relates to what God Is Dead is actually about. (It is both deeper and less thoughtful than the content of the music video for the song implies.)
Have you ever had doubts as to how vital Ozzy Osbourne is to the Black Sabbath sound? End Of The Beginning should erase them the second Ozzy sings “I don’t wanna see you!”.
But then we get to song three (of eight, remember), and it is called Loner:
Did I mention this song sucks? It is an affront to everything that I understood Black Sabbath to be about. In fact, it severely contradicts a few things that Ozzy can be heard singing on End Of The Beginning, namely “You don’t wanna be a robot ghost / occupied inside a Human host / analysed and cloned relentlessly / synthesised until they set you free / alright / okay” (and so forth, he repeats those last two words a few times, but in a good way, which is rare with repetition). Not long after this point, you hear Ozzy sing “I don’t wanna see you”.
And whomever directed the video that accompanies God Is Dead?, I wish you were my dad. Seriously, it is that good. You see, contrary to what the glam poseurs of the 1980s and the RIAA that sponsored them would like you to believe, Black Sabbath and doom metal were never about “bang your head against the stage” blah fukking blah. They were about shoving the faces of the ruling classes into our reality and saying “look at what you have done”. The song God Is Dead? and its accompanying video take all the glam poseurs and their 1990s and 2000s equivalents and shove their faces right into that.
By the way, here is a complete transcript of what Ozzy is singing during Loner:
He’s just a loner.
He never says hello.
A friend to no one.
He’s got no place to go.
He don’t look happy.
He look through furtive eyes.
He ain’t got nothing.
No one to sympathize.
He hides himself away.
His secrets not revealed.
As life just passes by he keeps himself concealed.
A solitary man.
An enigmatic child.
A riddle never solved.
A prisoner exiled.
I wonder if the loner can assimilate.
A life less lived alone plays devil’s advocate.
Has he ever tried to be happy?
Reached out from inside.
Someone on who he can depend.
It’s getting to late to recover.
He won’t stand a chance and into his own hell he’ll descend.
No understanding of things we already know.
He has to live his life and just learn how to let go.
Communication’s an impossibility.
His own best friend but he’s his own worst enemy.
The secrets of his past locked deep inside his head.
I wonder if he will be happy when he’s dead.
Previously, I have written that Black Sabbath should have ditched this song and replaced it with something else. The Yanomamo song A Bag Of Bones & a Machine Gun was the specific example of better that I cited at that time. But even among Sabbath’s own catalogue, it is not as if they are hurting for songs that would have been a better inclusion. One song that fits this bill and appears on some versions of 13 as a bonus is called Naiveté In Black:
Am I the only one who feels that politics within the band (yes, even Black Sabbath has internal politics, as they so aptly demonstrated after 1978) is the reason Loner appears in place of Naiveté In Black?
Look, if you are really a Sabbath fan, then you already have 13. There is no way around it. But should you show friends who are wondering what the hell this band is about 13 in its unaltered form? No. Cut Loner out of the playlist, put Naiveté In Black in its place (at track three or tacked onto the end, it does not matter that much).
Another point worth considering is that whilst albums Black Sabbath through Never Say Die! convey a sense that the band know what it is like to wonder where your next meal is coming from, even the best songs on 13 have a certain sense of detachment.
is there a point to all of this? Well, yeah.
Weak material can sink your ship faster than you might realise. And sometimes it is not easy to discern which material is weak. Recall the exchanges in documentaries about the makings of Star Wars films in which George Lucas is sharing his latest idea with the rest of the “creative team”. Note how uncomfortable and strained they appeared when he solicited their approval for a very silly idea.
I am not saying that this happened during recording sessions for 13, but Loner truly is the George Lucas moment of the album. Once you hear it, many spend both the rest of the album and subsequent listenings wishing they could unhear it.