The “only criticism” Ozzy Osbourne had of Rick Rubin

The studio environment is both the best and worst place for any artist. It can be exhilarating to refine a song until it’s perfect, but when creativity stalls and you’re just trying to get something special into the final mix, it can be excruciating to lay down even a single decent note, let alone an entire song. When Black Sabbath returned with 13, it was bound to be a rigorous effort for everyone involved. Ozzy Osbourne admitted that working with Rick Rubin was a nightmare when it came to getting the perfect take.

Then again, the Osbourne of the glory days of Sabbath differed greatly from the one who showed up for their long-awaited comeback. There was still a lot of great material to work through, but Osbourne’s voice tended to hit a bit of a plateau since No More Tears, usually favouring the lower notes in his range and every musician’s best friend: reverb.

While Rubin was the new kid on the block by comparison, it’s not like he came into the studio without doing his homework. This was the same man who worked with the biggest songs for Johnny Cash during the waning years of his life, so it wasn’t like the project was in shaky hands or anything.

To get the best out of Osbourne, though, that meant going for one take after another, usually punching through as many passes as they could. Any good record requires at least a little bit of blood, sweat, and tears to get everything down, but Osbourne believed that what Rubin was doing was well over the line.

Considering how many times he played songs like ‘God is Dead?’, Osbourne thought that Rubin was after some weird form of perfection, saying, “The only criticism I have about the album was when I went down to Rick Rubin’s studio, I said, ‘Rick, I’m here, you tell me when you have it good enough.’ I’d do like fucking 300 takes, and he would go, ‘That last one was fucking great, but just give me one more.’”

300 takes of any song would make anyone not want to listen to the piece again, but Rubin was probably taking a page out of Mutt Lange’s playbook. The whole reason why Lange’s productions on records by AC/DC sounded so good was because of how much he put into getting the right take, looking for that perfect blend between vocal and guitar to where everything sounds immaculate.

In fact, this kind of approach to recording might also lend itself better to how David Fincher directs a lot of the dialogue in his films. The famed director is notorious for letting people run their lines over and over again until he feels that they’ve got the right shot, but it’s often better for the actors to get the material in the bones as they start getting each line tighter and tighter by the time they get the final take.

It’s not like that elbow grease didn’t pay off, either, with 13 bringing Sabbath some of the best songs of their later period and allowing them to close the door on their career with ease. Rubin may have seemed like a madman when Osbourne was being put through his paces, but it takes some degree of madness to reach the level of genius.

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