Ozzy is no longer going off the rails
Ozzy is by no stretch of the imagination an ordinary man—through his endeavors as frontman of the legendary doom metal and hard rock pioneers Black Sabbath from the late 1960’s and onwards, as well as his extremely successful solo career which has included side dabbling in reality TV, drugs, bats and controversy as the Prince of Darkness (or is that Miles Davis’s nickname?) Nevertheless, one must drop their jaw at two thoughts:
1) Ozzy is 71 years old and still making music?
2) Why is Ozzy still making music?
Ordinary Man, Ozzy’s 12th solo album and first in a decade, admittedly holds no punches on a variety of things. To begin, the production and overall sound quality of the album has an extremely refreshing sheen that is clean, yet dirty when it needs to be. Likewise, the instrumentation is fairly solid, with the drum and guitar work especially locking in tight, albeit nothing holds to early 1980s Ozzy alumni and guitar heroes alike Jake E. Lee and, of course, the late Randy Rhoads. Speaking of which, the abundance of session and/or guest guitar spots is particularly and unusually present here, something particularly unique for Ozzy Osbourne studio releases, with the one exception being his covers record, Under Cover (2005).
Be that as it may, it’s completely unfair to compare a 2020 release to work that was put out four decades ago with entirely different personnel, creative direction and general aesthetic. This is wherein the true confusion lies. What is Ozzy trying to do here? The songwriting really isn’t bad but it’s not anything to write home about, and the same could be said for a litany of things, such as the vocals, lyricism, cover art and features.
The opening track “Straight to Hell” definitely is a head-banger for hard-rock fans, speckled with pretty unimaginative lyrics and vocals, and a wanky wah-guitar solo at the end. This style of song, however, is not too present on the record, as a good majority of the songs are slower, doom-ier tracks or just straight up ballads, with the obvious exceptions being the Post Malone featured track, “It’s A Raid,” and “Eat Me.” The shreddy, albeit meaningless guitar solos are, however, still present on the slower and sludgier tracks, such as “Under the Graveyard” and “Goodbye.”
The defining sound of Ozzy, including ’80s chorus-drenched guitars are extremely present (“Today Is The End,” “Scary Little Green Men”), but with the absurd acceptance of … autotune? Never has Ozzy been a virtuoso vocalist among the likes of Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin or even his metal contemporaries Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden and Rob Halford of Judas Priest, but the man could sing, even if in his 70’s. However, the autotune vocals are surely used for sound rather than pitch correction, since it must be mentioned that the autotune and use of psychedelic studio production is a direct influence from Travis Scott, who is featured on the very last song, in the vein of his extremely successful release, Astroworld (2018).
The title speaks to Osbourne’s upmost accessibility which must be considered at the end of the day. Ozzy is, or at least was, also a pop star. His music has reflected fairly mainstream tastes consistently that has allowed him to thrive since his musical career started more than 50 years ago. Let us not forget the days passed of overdriven, hair-metal guitar solos (“Crazy Train,” “Mr. Crowley”), or the shameless ballads every ’80s and ’90s metal band adored (“Mama, I’m Coming Home,” “Close My Eyes Forever”). It’s pretty impressive that Ozzy has consistently caught up to whatever the hottest trend is in metal music and at least dipped his toes into it, with or without fail.
Ozzy sprinkles in some features, (hold on to your horses if you’re not familiar with just the insane cast Ozzy pulls into this record) from Post Malone, Travis Scott, Elton John and Slash. Also, not to mention, the bass duties are played by the one and only Duff McKagan of Guns N’ Roses and drums by Chad Smith from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Wow? More specifically, Slash showcases his guitar riffing on the opening song as well as the title track that also features Elton John. Likewise, Tom Morello, the pedal-whiz behind the charged alt-metal champs Rage Against The Machine and Prophets of Rage is featured on “Scary Little Green Men,” which delves into mental health issues, and on the Post Malone track, “It’s A Raid.” Producer and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Watt is featured on both lead and rhythm guitar on a majority of the tracks, as well.
There comes a point where this ideal of hiring other musicians to be ‘featured’ on a song just seems more like a cop-out than anything else. And, no, it’s not a diss at contemporary hip-hop singles records, but rather the fact that, well, it’s Travis Scott on Ozzy Osbourne’s latest album. And, sure the title track featuring Elton John is cool considering it’s two rock ‘n roll legends, but the song doesn’t even really go anywhere unique.
But, hey, Ozzy hasn’t really been known to completely alter or experiment with sounds like his contemporaries, such as David Bowie putting free jazz on his 2016 masterpiece Blackstar, or Scott Walker collaborating with drone metal heroes Sunn O))), but this is because he doesn’t really need to. Ozzy is good at what he does because people love him for him. And albeit Ordinary Man is far from being a unique record, or even a good one at that, one must remember that Ozzy really isn’t for everyone, and that’s what makes him great.