To call this a long-anticipated release would be a huge understatement. The world has not seen an album from Ozzy Osbourne since 2010’s Scream, and save a live single in 2012 it took until the end of the decade for any new material to emerge from the Prince Of Darkness. What ultimately came about was an unorthodox feature on a track with Post Malone and Travis Scott, as well as two new singles on Ozzy’s part, one of which spawned a retrospective video chronicling Ozzy’s patch of immense decadence and darkness after his booting from Black Sabbath and his wife Sharon’s relentless incentive to get him through.
In the case of any veteran artist, crossover tracks and reflections on life after such a long time are surefire to get loyal fans and casual listeners alike asking questions; what’s going on, what does this mean, where is all of this headed? Those questions are, if not directly, summarily answered then certainly given more clarity in Ordinary Man, Ozzy’s twelfth album since his solo debut forty years ago (and fifty since Sabbath’s first two albums). Despite having carved a clear and identifiable sound for himself in that time and having perhaps the most iconic voice in all of metal, the world has come to expect just about anything, music or behaviour wise from Ozzy Osbourne. With an eclectic and all-star cast of characters forming his backing band, things are indeed set to get interesting.
Throw the horns up and cue the metal: “Straight To Hell”, the second of the two singles released in November offers a gloomy choral intro before launching right into blazing, classic metal in its most unfettered form. Notable is the presence of two Gunners: Slash makes an offering of wah’d-out lightning while Duff McKagan tackles the thunder (doing so for most of the tracks on the album). There’s some key elements too, handled by Charlie Puth- that’s right, the same guy that did the chorus on “See You Again” is now a contributor to an Ozzy album. Kick in the head or what?
“All My Life” scales things back a bit while bringing in the introspection: “I was standing at the edge, looking down at myself as a child/and he looked back at me crying tears of defeat from his eyes.” “Goodbye” nods obviously to “Iron Man” in the beginning with its robot vocals and unmistakable pounding drums, working from a Sabbath-y plod to a full metal assault while setting more and more of a lyrically revealing tone with each stanza and verse: “You break me, forsake me/right now I want to die/so it’s goodbye.”
“Ordinary Man”, a retrospective duet with none other than Sir Elton John is a quintessential career farewell tune and a fantastic potpourri of rock and roll: The mesh of Elton and Ozzy comes off like a stupendous melding of “Goodbye To Romance” and “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down Me”, packing with it an air of Abbey Road-era Beatles, a fitting thing given the late stage both men are at in their careers. Throw in another couple of Slash solos and there’s tinges of “Estranged” in there as well. Alarming and growingly prominent still are the continued themes of impending death and mortality, raising the obvious question if the Godfather of Heavy Metal’s days are numbered: “And the truth is I don’t want to die an ordinary man.”
“Under The Graveyard”, single number one from November is no less optimistic or hopeful about what lies in the future: “Today I woke up and I hate myself.” The more alt-rock-esque fuzz guitars throw in an unexpectedly modern element to what is otherwise a straight-up Master Of Reality throwback, while its successor “Eat Me” treads closer to the likes of “Demon Alcohol” from No Rest For The Wicked. “Today Is The End” starts off like a vintage Alice In Chains cut (think “I Can’t Remember” off Facelift or “Frogs” off the Tripod album) before fuzzing out a la Royal Blood and many of the other bass-and-drums duos of the last ten years. Still, with Ozzy approaching it with enough of his own trademark flare, it’s clear that neither ’10s distorted two-piece rock nor ’90s doom-grunge could ever have been possible without his trailblazing influence.
“Scary Little Green Men” dishes out more thousand-pound hard rock with Tom Morello guesting in on the axe along with core guitar man Andrew Watt. “Holy For Tonight” slows back down again, sounding like a gloomier Elton John cut without Elton’s assistance and sees Ozzy once more mulling over his demise: “I’m running out of time forever/I know I’m someone that they won’t remember.” Now done with the morbid fascinations of mortality and a life (disputably) well lived, “It’s A Raid” brings Morello back into the fold and allows Chili Pepper and sole stick doctor of the album Chad Smith to fully unleash in a four-minute-and-twenty-second burst of complete mayhem. There’s a twist though- a wild Post Malone appears, giving a vocal contribution that while still a bit unusual and not exactly fitting for an Ozzy record adds to Malone’s musical versatility and brings him closer to being a rockstar instead of just feeling like one. His previous collaboration with Ozzy and Travis Scott, “Take What You Want” is included afterwards as a bonus track, but outside of that the road ends there.
Ordinary Man is in sum a strong, spectacular comeback that ensures that the man who arguably invented heavy metal will die anything but. It’s also a bit of a cause for concern and sorrowful anticipation, not to do with anything musical but more so with the fact of Ozzy seeming very preoccupied with the premise of his own death as his lyrics reveal. David Bowie wrote many tracks on Blackstar that directly or indirectly confronted and came to terms with his imminent passing, and barely anyone knew things were going downhill for him until it was too late. Ozzy recently revealed that he has Parkinson’s Disease and is already entertaining doing another record that could come out this year, after waiting an entire decade to release this one- something somebody might do if they knew they didn’t have much time left. Hopefully things turn out alright, and for right now, we can rejoice and celebrate a great return to form in Ordinary Man, and if this album does turn out to be Ozzy Osbourne’s last, we can say it was a hell of a sendoff.