Doctor Who––Series 5, Episode 10: “Vincent and the Doctor”
“Between you and me, in a hundred words, where do you think Van Gogh rates in the history of art?” “Well… um… big question. But, to me, Van Gogh is the finest painter of them all. Certainly, the most popular, great painter of all time. The most beloved. His command of colour the most magnificent. He transformed the pain of his tormented life into ecstatic beauty. Pain is easy to portray, but to use your passion and pain to portray the ecstasy and joy and magnificence of our world, no one had ever done it before. Perhaps no one ever will again. To my mind, that strange, wild man who roamed the fields of Provence was not only the world’s greatest artist, but also one of the greatest men who ever lived.”
is the eleventh album by band Black Sabbath, released in August . It is the only album the group recorded with lead vocalist Ian Gillan, best known for his work with Deep Purple. The album has received mixed reviews from critics, but it was a commercial success upon its 1983 release, reaching No. 4 in the UK charts. The album as well hit the top 40 in the United States,
Following the departure of vocalist Ronnie James Dio and drummer Vinny Appice in 1982, Black Sabbath’s future was very much in doubt. The band switched management to Don Arden (Sharon Osbourne’s father) and it was he who suggested Ian Gillan as the band’s new vocalist. "That band was put together on paper,“ guitarist Tony Iommi revealed in the 1992 documentary Black Sabbath: 1978–1992. "We’d never rehearsed.” Initially, the project which became Born Again was intended to be a new supergroup; they did not intend to bill themselves as Black Sabbath but Arden insisted on the group using the recognisable Black Sabbath name. The band considered many possible vocalists such as Robert Plant and David Coverdale before settling on Gillan. The band even received an audition tape from a then-unknown Michael Bolton. Iommi told Hit Parader magazine in 1983 that Gillan was the best available candidate, saying “His shriek is legendary.” Gillan was at first reluctant to work on the project, but his manager later convinced him to meet with Iommi and bassist Geezer Butler at The Bear public house in Oxford and, after a night of heavy drinking, Gillan officially committed to the project in February 1983. Born Again also featured the return of founding member Bill Ward on drums, who had left the band in 1980 and was now newly sober. Ward has said that he enjoyed making the album.
Black Sabbath began recording the album in May 1983 at The Manor Studio owned by Richard Branson in the Oxfordshire countryside. Producer Robin Black had previously worked with the band in the mid-1970s, serving as engineer for the album Sabotage. In his autobiography, Iommi recounts his surprise when Gillan informed him that during the sessions he planned to live outside the house in a marquee tent. “I thought he was joking, but when I arrived at the Manor I saw this marquee outside and I thought, fucking hell, he’s serious. Ian had put up this big, huge tent. It had a cooking area and a bedroom and whatever else.” Gillan brought an immediacy to the songwriting process that was uncommon for Sabbath. “Ian’s lyrics were about sexual things or true facts, even about stuff that happened at The Manor there and then,” Iommi recalls in his memoir. “They were good, but quite a departure from Geezer’s and Ronnie’s lyrics.” For example, Gillan returned from a local pub one evening, took a car belonging to drummer Ward, and commenced racing around a go-cart track located on the Manor Studio property. He crashed the car, which burst into flames after he escaped uninjured. He wrote the album’s opening track “Trashed” about the experience. In addition, the song “Disturbing the Priest” was written after a rehearsal space set up by Iommi in a small building near a local church received noise complaints from the resident priests.
Although the band got along well, it became apparent to all involved that Gillan’s style did not quite mesh with the Sabbath sound. In 1992, Gillan told director Martin Baker, “I was the worst singer Black Sabbath ever had. It was totally, totally incompatible with any music they’d ever done. I didn’t wear leathers, I wasn’t of that image…I think the fans probably were in a total state of confusion.” In 1992, Iommi admitted to Guitar World, “Ian is a great singer, but he’s from a completely different background, and it was difficult for him to come in and sing Sabbath material.” When the band heard the final product they were horrified at the muffled sound of the mix. In his autobiography, Iommi explains that Gillan inadvertently blew a couple of tweeters in the studio speakers by playing back the tracks too loud and nobody noticed. “We just thought it was a bit of a funny sound, but it went very wrong somewhere between the mix and the mastering and the pressing of that album…the sound was really dull and muffly. I didn’t know about it, because we were already out on tour in Europe. By the time we heard the album, it was out and in the charts, but the sound was awful.” For all his misgivings, Gillan remembers the period fondly, stating in the Black Sabbath: 1978–1992 documentary, “But by God, we had a good year…And the songs, I think, were quite good.”
According to Iommi’s autobiography, Ward began drinking again near the end of the Born Again recording sessions and returned to Los Angeles for treatment. The band recruited Bev Bevan, who had played with The Move and ELO, for the upcoming tour in support of the new album and, in many respects, the tour was far more remarkable than the album. Gillan had all the lyrics to the Sabbath songs written out and plastered all over the stage, explaining to Martin Baker in 1992, “I couldn’t get into my brain any of these lyrics…I cannot soak in these words. There’s no storyline. I can’t relate to what they mean.” Gillan attempted to overcome the problem by having a cue book with plastic pages on stage, which he would turn with his foot during the show. However, Gillan did not anticipate the “six buckets” of dry ice that engulfed the stage, making it impossible for the singer to see the lyric sheets. “Ian wasn’t very sure-footed either,” Iommi writes in his memoir. “He once fell over my pedal board. He was waving at the people, stepped back and, bang!, he went arse over head big time.” Gillan also told Birch that it was Don Arden’s idea to open the show with a crying baby blaring over the speakers and a dwarf made to look exactly like the demonic baby depicted on the Born Again album cover miming to the screaming. “We noticed a dwarf walking around the day before the opening show…And we’re saying to Don, ‘We think this is in the worst possible taste, this dwarf, you know?’ And Don’s going, 'Nah, the kids will love it, it’ll be great.’”
Born Again is a great heavy metal album. It’s also a great Black Sabbath album and quite deserving of the name. Many of the albums they made past this point were also good albums that have been sadly overlooked. If you wish to get into the more obscure Sabbath stuff, this would be a good starting point. All three instrumental members are still there, and they are fronted by Deep Purple’s singer. It isn’t a bad idea on paper, and it certainly still isn’t a bad idea when executed.
I even like the cover. It’s scary, strange, and symbolic image of the Antichrist’s - all that what we think as 'evil’, 'wrong’ and so on - birth to this world. Much like this album is with it’s crushing overall sound and two doom metal monoliths of the A-side. If you can forget the production, which can be problem for some, and two or three fillers, you get a very well done album.
Well… um… big question, but, to me Van Gogh is the finest painter of them all. Certainly the most popular, great painter of all time. The most beloved, his command of colour most magnificent. He transformed the pain of his tormented life into ecstatic beauty. Pain is easy to portray, but to use your passion and pain to portray the ecstasy and joy and magnificence of our world, no one had ever done it before. Perhaps no one ever will again. To my mind, that strange, wild man who roamed the fields of Provence was not only the world’s greatest artist, but also one of the greatest men who ever lived.