Ozzy Osbourne Stares Down His Demons With a Smile on ‘Ordinary Man’
On “Ordinary Man,” the lushly sentimental title track of Ozzy Osbourne’s latest album, the Godfather of Heavy Metal has the audacity to sing, “I don’t wanna die an ordinary man.” It’s a puzzling lyric because for the past half-century he’s been anything but average — he’s been the Iron Man, the Blizzard of Ozz, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Rebel — but he sings the line from the heart, showing how deep down inside he still feels like he still needs to prove himself. That’s because in the past year or so, he’s faced some serious health reckonings, including a potentially deadly staph infection that sidelined him from an otherwise triumphant world tour, a fall that was so intense that he needed surgery, and a surprising Parkinson’s disease diagnosis. Ordinary Man, his first new album since Black Sabbath’s blockbuster reunion LP, 13, and first solo offering since 2010’s Scream, is a tribute to his resilience.
Osbourne has always been hard rock’s comeback kid. He dusted himself off after Black Sabbath fired him as their frontman and redefined himself as an unflappable heavy-metal madman. As wild as his antics were and as dark as some of his music was, he always let his fans in on the joke. There was an impish spirit in tracks like “Flying High Again” and “Suicide Solution,” and real heart in ballads like “So Tired” and “See You on the Other Side.”
Ordinary Man brings Osbourne into new light. Because he recorded the LP in the depths of misery, the songs, whether tender or bawdy, are more revealing and personal than some of his past hits. He was still recovering from an operation related to his fall last year when his daughter Kelly asked if he wanted to make a song with Post Malone — someone Ozzy had never heard of. He decided it would be a good distraction, and they recorded the instant hit “Take What You Want.” He felt a connection with Post’s producer, guitarist Andrew Watt, and decided to make a record, and the two recruited an all-star rhythm section — Guns N’ Roses’ Duff McKagan on bass and the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Chad Smith on drums — and dreamed up 10 songs in the space of a week. They got a little help from pop guru Ali Tamposi (Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger,” Camila Cabello’s “Havana”) and signed up a guest list that includes Elton John, Slash, Tom Morello, Charlie Puth, and, once again, Post Malone. Ozzy has said the album was therapeutic for him, and you can hear it in his voice.
Some of the songs are elegiac, some are packed with comic-book laughs, but throughout the album he sings with a youthful vivacity that seems at odds with his seventy-something years. His goofball songs are more lighthearted than ever, and his more serious songs sound even more thoughtful.
When he helped invent heavy metal half a century ago, he sang horror-movie lyrics with a conviction that was truly unsettling. Now he’s singing about real-life terrors — “Today I woke up and I hate myself,” he sings on “Under the Graveyard,” “Death doesn’t answer when I cry for help” — and the way his voice aches is incredibly moving. Then the music gets heavy and his performance is heavier. “I ain’t livin’ this lie no more,” he sings over a Sabbathian riff. On the power ballad “All My Life,” he remembers “crying tears of defeat” as a child and muses, “Heaven can take me but no one can save me from hell again.” On “Goodbye,” a song with an “Iron Man” stomp, he sings, “I want to die.” For all of these dark disclosures, however, you know he wants to live because on the rest of the tracks he’s the same old Ozzy.
The raging anti-drug opener, “Straight to Hell,” shows off his crude sense of humor — “I’ll make you scream; I’ll make you defecate, ha ha ha ha ha” — minutes before a ripping guitar solo by Slash. The bluesy “Eat Me” is his take on the German cannibal who placed a classified ad to find someone willing to be his meal (with a “Wizard”-ly harmonica intro), and “Scary Little Green Men” starts off like a gorgeous ballad in the vein of his 1986 classic “Killer of Giants,” until it picks up the pace with verses about homicidal Martians. And then there’s “It’s a Raid,” the record’s closing cut. Featuring Post Malone, it’s a silly hardcore-punk song about a subject Ozzy has been singing about for 50 years: paranoia. And it ends with Ozzy screaming “Fuck youuu!” Even when he’s at his lowest, the Ozzman still knows how to have fun.
But it’s the tender moments that make Ordinary Man a keeper. “Holy for Tonight,” a soulful, midtempo ballad about a man on death row waiting for his number to be called, has a lush, almost Jeff Lynne–like arrangement, catchy gospel backup vocals, and Ozzy’s haunting refrain, “I might have told a million lies, but I’ll be holy for tonight.” And, of course, the centerpiece is the reflective “Ordinary Man.” The song, which finds the Prince of Darkness swapping verses with the Rocketman, Elton John, is his most naked offering since “Mama, I’m Coming Home,” as he sings, “Don’t know why I’m still alive.” Decades after he howled out “Oh, please, God, help me” on “Black Sabbath,” Ozzy is still bravely confronting the dark side as only he can.
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