By Daniel Anderson
By all accounts, it is a miracle that he has gotten this far.
From his days as a scraggly youth in Birmingham, England to his firing from the band that finally gave him success and prosperity, there have been countless times where people thought his career to have hit a dead end, like many who inhabited the sunless, industrial city from which he came. But such was not the case for the Prince of Darkness.
If someone were to ask who defines metal music, the name Ozzy Osbourne will inevitably be among the first to be mentioned. Whether it be with his synonymous band of origin, Black Sabbath, his illustrious solo career or even any of the various ventures in popular media over the years, the extent of Ozzy’s influence seemingly knows no bounds.
Of course, as is with many who spend time in the limelight, there has been no shortage of hardships, what with notorious substance abuse and legal scrapes being a constant association. In recent times, especially last year, things have unfortunately not fared well either.
In late 2018, several tour dates ended up postponed due to a hospitalizing staph infection accidentally contracted from a fan, but this was merely the beginning of his troubles. Early the following year he wound up in a brief skirmish against pneumonia, and while recovering he suffered a fall which resulted in nerve damage, thus requiring neck surgery (and the postponing of all 2019 tour dates, which all have since been canceled). And to top it all off, in February that same year he revealed that he had recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s.
Ozzy called 2019 “…the worst, most painful, miserable year of my life.” Considering the countless mishaps throughout his previous decades in existence, it was quite the statement for fans and the public to process.
At this point in his life, there is very little that he has left to prove to the entertainment world. With all the record sales, awards, and accolades he has accumulated along with his shortcomings, Ozzy seems to have realized that time may be closing in for him, however fast or mid-paced it may seem. It is only logical that, if such is the case, then going out with a whimper would be least apropos.
With two teaser tracks released in the latter half of the year, it was soon revealed that the decade-long gap between studio albums would at last be closed in late February with his twelfth full-length project: Ordinary Man.
Even on a cursory glance, this record is an absolute blockbuster. All throughout the tracklist, there are guest musicians and features galore. Tom Morello (of Rage Against The Machine) and Slash (of Guns N’ Roses) on guitars, Chad Smith (of Red Hot Chili Peppers) on drums, plus features from Post Malone and even the Rocketman himself, Elton John, the personnel list is beyond stacked.
Yet still, I went into this album with a fair amount of reservation, as I find that the majority of Ozzy’s works past his 1991 release No More Tears to range from average to lackluster. With so much hardship endured and with such an all-star ensemble to back him, I wanted to see if the ends truly justified the means. Thankfully, this was the case for the most part.
Opening with one of the teaser tracks from last year, the anti-drug rager “Straight to Hell” the bar for what is to come is already set at a decent height. Following a short, angelic choir intro (which is quite a fitting tone-setter considering how long the absence was), a blazing riff enters and the record takes off. While the drum fills and bass certainly do justice, I particularly admire the guitar tone here. The heavily distorted and fuzzy effects added make it nearly akin to the numerous stoner and doom metal acts that follow in Black Sabbath’s footsteps, like Sleep or Windhand.
Despite restraints in his age and conditions, Ozzy’s delivery is surprisingly solid on this track as he devilishly spews lyrics of crippling addiction: “I’ll make you lie, I’ll make you steal and kill / I’ll make you crawl until your final thrill / Enjoy the ride, I’ll plant my bitter seed / You’ll kill yourself and I will watch you bleed.”
Highlights do not end with the intro, as there are other tracks and moments worth listening to. “Under the Graveyard” (another teaser track), is a throwback to 80s arena rock, with its thunderous presentation in its chorus and blazing guitar solo near the tail-end.
Track 6, “Eat Me” has a reverb-drenched harmonica intro that harkens back to the Black Sabbath classic “The Wizard” before a savory bassline lets loose. Plus, the chorus melody ranks among one of the catchiest in the tracklist.
The lyrics revolve around campy, macabre perspective of something, or someone being eaten. The true intentions for this are unknown, but in a Reddit AMA Ozzy made a cheeky remark claiming that it is about a golf match.
Then there is the title track, in which Elton John makes his feature appearance. An old-school, lighter-worthy ballad, this song is where both men, especially Ozzy, truly take time for introspection, as they reflect back on their past decisions, triumphs and tragedies, stating that the lives they have lived warrant a legacy that they can be satisfied with, “Yes, I’ve been a bad guy / Been higher than the blue sky / And the truth is I don’t wanna die an ordinary man / I’ve made momma cry / Don’t know why I’m still alive / Yes, the truth is I don’t wanna die an ordinary man.” Considering all the troubles Ozzy has endured in the past year make the sour melodies and guitar lines particularly gut-wrenching.
Unfortunately, aside from specific moments of decency, I did not think that much of the album could climb over the peaks which these songs did. I find that there is not much separating tracks like “All My Life” and “Today is the End,” as the record seems to be defined by the slow or mid-paced ballads thrown about. “Holy For Tonight,” while good in execution, is not far removed from what the title track sets to achieve; it is practically a second attempt.
Curiously, I find that many of this album’s pros and cons parallel with those of Kirk Windstein’s solo album Dream In Motion from last month. Both celebrate and lament the past and present lives of their leads, but sadly suffer from pacing issues in their tracklist. Much like with the closer on Kirk’s record, the decision to make the smash hit Post Malone and Travis Scott collaboration “Take What You Want” the curtain call for this album is quite disappointing, considering the same song closed out Post Malone’s album Hollywood’s Bleeding last year. By no means is it a bad song, it just feels like it was placed in here to pad out the runtime.
The same can be said with the preceding track “It’s a Raid” (also featuring Post). Again, it is not terrible at all, but if “Take What You Want” was left as a bonus track, then it would still amount to a rather anticlimactic finish, despite the ferocious performances it has.
Also, once more like Dream In Motion, the production was quite underwhelming most of the time. The best tracks on the album seem to be the least applied to this (especially the opener), as the guitars and drums are compressed beyond belief in nearly every song. And of course, as I expected it would be, Ozzy’s vocals seem to hinge on the effects used for enhancement, which can make them feel robotic.
Still, I did not let this record’s shortcomings impede that which I enjoyed, which was thankfully present in several moments throughout. If anything, I, like many others, am just grateful that he was even able to get this album finished and released. With all that has happened to him recently, it is nothing short of a gift, a miracle.
If Ordinary Man ends up being the swansong for the Prince of Darkness, then this is a fine note to end on. Cheers to you, Ozzy, I too hope that they serve tea in heaven.
Standout Tracks: “Straight to Hell,” “Under the Graveyard,” “Eat Me,” “Ordinary Man”
- Straight to Hell
- All My Life
- Ordinary Man (feat. Elton John)
- Under the Graveyard
- Eat Me
- Today Is the End
- Scary Little Green Men
- Holy for Tonight
- It’s a Raid (feat. Post Malone)
- Take What You Want (feat. Post Malone and Travis Scott)