It feels like something of a miracle that Ozzy Osbourne is about to release his 13th solo studio album. The metal icon’s health struggles have been well-documented in recent years, whether he’s been preparing for “life-changing” surgery, inflicted by repeated bouts of staph or testing positive for COVID-19. But, on ‘Patient Number 9’, he sounds far from the frail man the swirl of headlines might suggest. Instead, this is Ozzy invigorated and ready to do what he does best – rock the fuck out.
You can tell his health has been weighing on his mind, though. The album’s lyrics often return to the themes of mortality (or lack thereof), Hell and a bleak outlook on the future. “My heart’s beating, buried alive,” he sings unsettlingly on the crunching ‘Dead And Gone’. “Open my eyes, my soul won’t survive.” But for every despondent moment, there’s a flash of resilience and stubbornness. “God only knows what’s going on / My life has become the setting sun,” he begins in resignation on ‘God Only Knows’, but swiftly throws a positive spin on it all: “Better to burn in Hell than fade away.” Earlier, on the scorching six-string wizardry of ‘Immortal’, he makes a promise as gigantic as his legendary status: “But I’ll never die / ‘Cause I’m immortal.”
Just because Osbourne isn’t exactly hurtling towards tomorrow with excitement, it doesn’t mean he’s looking back with rose-tinted round glasses, mind. There’s no room for wistful nostalgia in the Prince of Darkness’ latest missive – sure, right now, there’s confusion, paranoia and pain in the world, and a shortage of hope for what’s to come, but he’s wise enough to know there’s little point in reliving old glories. “There’s a thousand different shades of darkness colouring our fate,” he declares on ‘A Thousand Shades’. “The past is dead; the future’s haunted.” Life, it seems, is a lose-lose situation for the Prince of Fucking Darkness.
‘Patient Number 9’ isn’t doom and gloom, though. It’s an exhilarating rattle through some of the sludgiest, most blistering riffs committed to record this year – and the Devil Osbourne so often cites seeps into his nature from time to time. ‘Degradation Rules’ is a harmonica-laced ode to debauchery and some very risky alone time. “Asphyxiation, masturbation / Degradation rules,” Ozzy narrates. It all turns out OK, though, the Brummie legend catching up with the protagonist the morning after: “Used up all his energy / He wakes up with a twinkle in his eye.”
Osbourne’s second album in two years, this new record takes 2020’s ‘Ordinary Man’’s lead and goes big on the collaborations. Instead of that album’s unlikely team-ups with Post Malone and Travis Scott, here things make a lot more sense. ‘Patient Number 9’ is chock-full of big rock names such as Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready, who appears on ‘Immortal’. In yet further proof that cancel culture isn’t really a thing, Jeff Beck – set to tour North America with Johnny Depp – lends a hand on the eerie title track and ‘A Thousand Shades’, while Eric Clapton spools out a yearning melody on ‘One Of Those Days’.
Most exciting of all, though, is the appearance of Ozzy’s former Black Sabbath bandmate Tony Iommi. The guitarist pops up on two songs – perhaps unsurprisingly, they’re two of the best cuts on this record. As well as ‘Degradation Rules’, he electrifies ’No Escape From Now’ with a towering riff that drives the song with fittingly dark tones and chords that land like sledgehammers. It’s the first time Iommi has appeared on one of Ozzy’s solo albums and he more than lives up to the momentousness of the occasion.
As miraculous as ‘Patient Number 9’ feels, not every song quite earns its place on the record. The final track, ‘Darkside Blues’, could be great if it were fleshed out more. Instead, it feels like something you hear in the distance, blown over by a gust of wind. A harmonica sets the bluesy tone before Osbourne’s indecipherable, echoey vocals drift in and then, less than two minutes later, it dissipates again. ‘Mr Darkness’, too, feels like a little bit of a dud, the muddy guitars that make up much of the rest of the record diluted into something watery and lacking impact on the verses. Guitarist Zakk Wylde ramps things up for the chorus, but it doesn’t live up to the standard that he, his legendary boss or any of Ozzy’s other collaborators set elsewhere.
At 73 years old and battling with his health, you might not expect Osbourne to keep that bar particularly high. But, for the most part, ‘Patient Number 9’ does just that – it’s a fizzing piece of hard-rock magic. The superstitious metal frontman might have revealed in a recent Independent interview that he tries to “avoid looking at” the number 13, but we’re lucky to have his magnificent 13th solo album.
Label: Columbia Records
Release date: September 9