Ozzy Osbourne Howls Into the Darkness on ‘Ordinary Man’
Ozzy Osbourne is somehow still at it, at age seventy-one, and not much has changed. The macabre themes that set the template for metal in the Black Sabbath days now assume the form of existential musings, and Ozzy howls them in his distinctive voice, backed by an all-star crew of musicians including Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith and Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan. The album, ironically titled “Ordinary Man,” lapses into self-parody, but is entertaining from start to finish, reminding us that Osbourne is anything but ordinary.
The album could hardly begin with a more fitting track than “Straight to Hell.” The title alone could be a lampoon of everything Ozzy represents, and the track surely measures on this end, amped up with a choral backing and high def production, as if made to Andy Warhol’s mantra of “Always leave them wanting less.” “All My Life” is power metal, with almost too much Ozzy, in double tracked vocals. It’s Sabbath reimagined for today, literally, with full metal indulgence – pitch harmonics, and shameless guitar solo filigree. “Goodbye” finds Osbourne as nasal as ever, singing lines like “Right now I wanna die / So it’s goodbye.” Of course this man pioneered metal. There’s a mid-song tempo shift, and the song gets propulsive and vigorous, with a sound sure to give chills to any Sabbath fans, as it’s just the same.
“Ordinary Man” features none other than Elton John, and you can hear his touch from just the opening chords. It’s quite surreal hearing Ozzy sing an Elton John song. He goes all the way, bleating out a sweeping refrain over poignant changes and string-laden choruses. When John comes in, it’s a bit of a relief, as, let’s be honest, Ozzy’s voice can be a little hard to take. The song trudges along, with the lead of choirs, turning into an epic metal ballad of sorts. “Under the Graveyard” follows, with lines like “Today I woke up and I hate myself.” It makes one wonder how exactly Osbourne has made a career out of this, getting through on just personality. When the titular chorus hits, it could hardly be sillier, and it’s fantastic.
Harmonica enters the mix on “Eat Me,” a throwback to Sabbath’s first album. Then the guitars come in, and it’s standard Ozzy fare, cutting right into the rush, There are drum fills that make all the difference, and Ozzy sings with a sneer, throwing laughs in between lines, over plenty of guitar soloing. “Today Is the End” brings in Disintegration-era Cure phaser guitars, and Kermit the Frog singing that’s a bit hard to take seriously, but a good bit of fun at least, emphasized in contemporary, mainstream rock production, almost the likes of Thirty Seconds to Mars. Next comes “Scary Little Green Man,” and the title is enough, very Syd Barrett. The Cure guitars continue, and come the chorus, it’s beyond ridiculous, with Ozzy singing such priceless lines as “They might just try to eat us” over wheezing incidentals and howling guitars.
“Holy For Tonight” brings in gospel choirs, a sound that fits Osbourne surprisingly well. It’s a sure standout, with an epic chorus, and distorted guitars that strike on cue,and indulge in tapping solos and all the works. “It’s a Raid” starts like hardcore punk, the most immediately exhilarating moment on the record, then erupts into a full pop chorus. The song features Post Malone, and it’s a match made in heaven. We could have all seen this coming. Malone is far more versatile than people are inclined to think, and we hear him here channeling Ozzy, a bit of a tribute. There’s a moment when he sings, “Hold on, I’m runnin’ out of cigarettes / Fuck,” and it could hardly better encapsulate the silliness of this music at large. By the end, the two are both screaming, not as in Ozzy’s usual howling, but actual screaming, and it’s a riot. Finally, “Take What You Want” features Travis Scott. Both Ozzy and Scott are in pop mode here, and blend seamlessly. The track marks the biggest stylistic departure for Osborne, and ends the album on a bold note, even if trying a bit hard to remain relevant.
“Ordinary Man” is exactly what you would envision an Ozzy Osbourne album in 2020 to be. Ozzy was howling away in the ‘70s, and the sepia tones gave way to ‘80s cocaine atrocities, and he’s still here, doing the same thing, teaming up with Post Malone and Travis Scott. The resulting sounds are surreal, and the doom and gloom platitudes that have always filled the lyrics now take on a new gravity, as Osbourne ponders death, and gets more reflective than his usual shock value antics. The production is so trendy that it’s hard to imagine this will end up aging any better than “Crazy Train.” Still, the spirit of Sabbath lives on, and there’s plenty to enjoy here.
“Ordinary Man” is available Feb. 21 on Apple Music.