With Ordinary Man, Ozzy Osbourne reminds us that he’s anything but. A difficult 2019 for the Prince of Darkness resulted in the cancellation of all his tour dates and in early 2020 he revealed he’d been diagnosed with a form of Parkinson’s Disease.
It’ll take more than that to stop him though and his new album, co-written and produced by guitarist Andrew Watt (California Breed, Post Malone, Cardi B), is a defiant contribution to his solo career. Drummer Chad Smith (Red Hot Chilli Peppers) and bassist Duff McKagan (Guns N’ Roses) make up the rest of the band and are joined for cameos by Slash, Tom Morello, Elton John, Post Malone and Travis Scott.
Ordinary Man has everything an Ozzy Osbourne fan will be expecting; heavy riff led songs, lyrics laden with doom and monsters, a ballad or two and, most importantly, Ozzy’s unmistakable vocal which hasn’t lost that frequency that makes it sounds like it’s drifted up from the depths of hell.
‘Straight To Hell’ and ‘All My Life’ set things off at pace. The mix could be dense but Ozzy’s voice sears through with a trademark “all right now” greeting to ease you in. ‘Goodbye’ borrows heavily from the mechanical sludge of Black Sabbath and will feel familiar to those fans.
‘Eat Me’ and ‘Scary Little Green Men’ are solid entries but the almost comedic shock-rock style lyrics are the first time things feel a little dated. With mock alien voices in the outro, Ozzy only just gets away with it because he’s Ozzy. These offer some light relief without straying into cringe territory.
The inclusion of several cameo appearances (or collaborations if you must) is hit and miss. Slash and Tom Morello add their inimitable tones to lift the tracks they’re on. Slash’s solo in the album’s title track Ordinary Man could be an offcut from the Use Your Illusion days as he and Duff McKagan weave their way through the song, adding link chords and inversions to accentuate the guitarist’s notes. In the same track, Elton John lends his voice for a verse. The smooth depth of his vocal is a bizarre juxtaposition with Ozzy’s shrillness, but it works nicely and is an interesting addition.
In ‘Ordinary Man’ and ‘Holy For Tonight’ Ozzy is reflective in a way we’ve not seen much of before. He tackles the issue of what his legacy might be, how he’ll be remembered, and whether a dying man should repent on his death bed. It’s a welcome gear change in tone and more poignant given Ozzy’s recent health. His sincerity comes through with clarity and the arrangements are sympathetic to the lyrics, allowing Ozzy to remain clear and to the forefront as he battles the inevitable.
Producer Andrew Watt has worked previously with Post Malone and its likely this link which brought Malone to appear on Ozzy’s album. In the speed and chaos of ‘It’s A Raid” Ozzy’s voice cuts through the dense mix of distortion and drums but, unlike the contributions of Slash, Morello and Elton John, it’s unclear what added value Post Malone brings to the track. His vocal style and delivery is so modern that seems to clash with Ozzy’s. The way words are pronounced and the seemingly forced dynamics are more reminiscent of TV talent show performances where a big note generates a standing ovation than of Ozzy or Elton John’s directness. It’s a style that will never sit well with these ears but the addition of Post Malone to the credits is sure to earn the track a few extra streams from younger fans of the American singer.
The album’s closing track should and could probably have been ditched. A Post Malone song featuring Ozzy and rapper Travis Scott, ‘Take What You Want’ feels out of sync with the rest of the album. Where Ordinary Man, for the most part, takes Ozzy’s distinctive sound and adds some 21st Century studio tricks like programming and autotune, ‘Take What You Want’ is a song that belongs solely in 2020 and probably not on an Ozzy Osbourne album. Use of the phrase “shorty gon’ back” and the over affected vocal autotune synonymous with modern R&B, just seems too much of a jump in this context and the album could easily have stopped at track 10.
There’s a lot to like on Ordinary Man. For fans of Ozzy Osbourne, from his Black Sabbath days through his solo career, much of the album will be familiar territory and new material from the Prince of Darkness will always be welcomed. Ordinary Man falls more when it strays from the styles and sound Ozzy has developed over decades. Modern production techniques certainly add to the songs in places, but in others, for example with the overuse of autotune, they feel a step too far.