MARTIN POPOFF Comments On BLACK SABBATH Reunion - “Bill Ward Should Write All The Songs”

November 12, 2011, 12 years ago

hot flashes news black sabbath martin popoff’s Martin Popoff, author of BLACK SABBATH: Doom Let Loose and Black Sabbath FAQ has circulated the following letter to his email group, regarding the exciting news that guitarist Tony Iommi, singer Ozzy Osbourne, bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Bill Ward are reuniting again for a new album and world tour next year. Sink your teeth into this commentary!

“As a guy with the sad distinction of having written two Sabbath books totaling 720 pages (which many of you have – that’s for caring, seriously), I’m getting a lot of people asking me for comment on Black Sabbath – Tony, Ozzy, Geezer, Bill – getting back together for a tour and infinitely more cool, an album, produced by Rick Rubin.

Rather than write short useless quips back to everybody one by one and nobody is happy, I thought I’d write a long useless rant – how’s that?

OK, couldn’t care less about the playing live part. Great, we’ve seen all that. My only hope is that the set list expands some more. God luv ‘em, they did a bang-up job of being fairly inventive with the songs on Reunion. Give us 20% more again, please.

The record. OK, ask any serious, thoughtful fan, they’re gonna say, we’d like a creative, inventive, surreal journey of an album like Sabotage or Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. If Sabbath are going to get any respect at all, they need an Achtung Baby (U2), or do what THE STOOGES or NEW YORK DOLLS did with their reunion studio albums. Heck, no one agrees with me, but you wanna see balls, do what THE WHO did with Endless Wire. In other words shock the world and don’t’ give us an album full of Halloween riffs, wall-to-wall guitars, Iommi, Iommi Hughes, The Devil You Know. That’s if you want respect. Sabbath with Ozzy was shocking, record after record. None were the same; all inflamed the intellect.

We don’t want a BLACK LABEL SOCIETY OZZY record either, of course. This can’t be a battle of wills or even a compromise between the Tony world and the Ozzy world, with Bill feeling insecure and Geez being apathetic. Ozzy ostensibly put Zakk aside so the Ozzy records don’t sound like BLS. Well, he didn’t tell his producer that, and Gus wasn’t left to be Gus, so yeah, more Hot Topic Hollywood metal by PC for Oz. No, we need the Oz in ripped jeans and smiley faces on his knees, not the well-dressed vampire. Oz is always salt of the earth honest. He’s one of the most loveable guys, but we want white fringe and big sideburns. No Lennon glasses and crap on his hands he’d call crap on his hands.

OK, I’m getting ahead of myself. let’s ASSUME that a wild, creative, record that is scary to like people who are gong to die soon, rather than 14-year-olds, is what the lads and Rick Rubin want too. Just assume. OK, how do you get there? The answer, the ace of spades, the complex soul of the situation is Bill Ward. And oddly enough, Rick Rubin, emergent as either a zero or hero, actually, to quote one of the best Sab albums.


Bill Ward should write all the songs. Specifically, Bill and Tony should write all the music, and Bill and Geezer should write al the lyrics. Let’s run down the list. Back to Bill in a bit.


Love that guy, love the way he thinks. He’s a literary genius although he’d laugh at that because he sorta thinks he’s a buffoon, and plus he’s sort of retired. But no, not really, because there are the solo albums. Those records are too modern musically for the mandate we geek fans want of the album. BUT, I think if he shook the rust off, he could write amazing Sab lyrics again. He cares. He knows depression. Heck, now he’s even got mortality staring him in the face.


This album should not be about crouching around the burning oil drum of riffs, warming their hands. It should be about arrangement, the right tool for the job, whether that be acoustic guitar or mellotron or piano. As good as the bullshit detector was for The Devil You Know, it’s still a big, self-evident metal record, just like that classic Heaven And Hell and then Mob Rules. Solid albums, but smarmy and efficient. Respect from the wider thinking rock classes was not forthcoming. Tony’s gotta be a part of this, not the guy who writes everything, starting with a Munsters riff.

Rick Rubin

You pull your hair out thinking about this guy. When guys get in the big rock press, they inevitably kiss ass and say what a visionary he is. But I tell ya, everybody I’ve ever talked to that worked with him… it’s usually a variation on “he doesn’t do any work” and “he wasn’t there half the time.” Still, the results speak for themselves. TROUBLE’s masterpiece is the Rick Rubin record. MASTERS OF REALITY, THE CULT, the best SLAYER records… OK, don’t really care about anything else. From the one track I’ve heard, he doesn’t seem to have had any effect on my favourite band of all time, ZZ TOP. Wish he had. Wish he’d done the old Rick Rubin thing to those cats. But he’s a brilliant choice here! If Tony said let’s do this with Mike Exeter or Ozzy had any of his knobs in, who to my mind, may as well be hired song doctors, infecting everything, bulldozing the heart of the thing, Oz with his big heart, killing Ozzy’s personality, or I guess embracing just that mansion one… brutal. Keep the Sharon ‘zazz out of this. Hmm, Rick Rubin, Trouble… dang, I hope he remembers that experience when he gets in the room with Sabbath. Friggin’ Trouble and Manic Frustration are four times the albums Paranoid or Vol. 4 are/is.

Did I mention Bill Ward?

Ah yes, well, who has distinguished himself as the only guy – besides wild card Rick, whichever Rick shows up or whatever sage bull he drops on the guys, and how they take it – who is as uncommon and singular as Roger Waters solo, but Bill? Ward One: Along The Way and When The Bough Breaks (don’t ever get me started on Straws”one of the greatest masterpieces at 3:10 ever)… right there you have the samurai way to a Valhalla of a Sabbath record. Who would have thought the butt-of-jokes drummer would be the STEVEN WILSON of Black Sabbath, a quiet ADRIAN BELEW of BEATLES rock perfection? Yet he is. Guys, please listen to me… here’s a drummer making solo albums, and the drums, he couldn’t really care less. I believe he doesn’t even play them all (sorry, point of checking – not checking). Nae, this is about writing like VAN DER GRAAF, recording like QUEEN, feeling like the weight of the world is upon him… sounds very much like Geezer and Black Sabbath circa Sabotage, the greatest album ever made by anybody.

Look, I can tell you about so many bands that have sadly no clue how to write anymore. It’s always a disaster, of second-guessing, of writing to rule, of song doctors, of blustery producers coming in to produce and then co-writing everything.

I worry that there’s a large chunk of that in Tony and in Oz, who’ve just been too tempered into a caricature by the music business.

I think Geezer can be saved, or turned around, if he cares. If he pipes up.

But Bill, he’s the guy in this band that carries within him the magic of 'Air Dance,' 'Breakout', 'Swinging The Chain', 'Gypsy', and all of Sabotage and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. Bloody ‘ell, I hope he’s listened to, and not just shunted aside as the fourth wheel, the guy who didn’t, you know, have it all together and have a sustained “career.”

Please, you go now, you listen to 'Straws' or 'Children Killing Children' or 'Growth'… bloody ‘ell, the guy should sing a song on the damn record, or two – what a voice. If he sings three, that’s all the more for people to cluck over. He should be listened to at every turn. Again, that’s IF you don’t want to make a cookie cutter record. You know, bloody AEROSMITH… they can make a pop record right now like Just Push Play, get terrible reviews, embarrass themselves, and sell 300,000 CDs – yes, physical CDs – or they can be heroes and make a kick-ass guitar, bass and drums album full of originals, and sell 300,000 albums, and go to their graves totally loved. Sabbath’s got the same choices but totally different, in that it’s not about pop vs. metal, but Krautrock vs. Hot Topic; it’s about living with yourself and maybe – just maybe – getting that four star review outta Rolling Stone, because you made an Endless Wire. Pete, Jesus Christ, that guy is my hero. Don’t get me started.

OK, I’m done. Recap – what do I think, if you care, and apparently lots of you do… Bill, chief music and lyric writer, along with some singing, spiritual flame of the album, along with Rick Rubin, Geezer, encouraged to be the succinct, dour, space cadet we all love, Tony and Ozzy, just grab on and go along for the ride, do your magic, but be brave and radical enough to know that Bill and Geezer are the Roger Waters of this thing… heh heh, I was going to mention Mike Portnoy and Chris Adler, but no, they ain’t no Bill Ward, whose more of a John Lennon.

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