Ozzy Osbourne is not morbid. He’s macabre – obsessed with death, horror, skulls, skeletons, blood and carnage – but the Prince of Darkness has always been too infatuated with life itself to wallow in the prospect of shuffling off this mortal coil.
That’s because his love of all things ghoulish has always been more about escapism – his darkly delicious tunes raise a goblet to life’s absurdities. He’s a fucking good laugh, you know? And his uproarious 12th solo album, ‘Ordinary Man’, finds him cackling in the face of the Grim Reaper.
Death stalks the tracklist: ‘Today Is The End’, ‘Under The Graveyard’ and – perhaps most ominously of all – ‘Goodbye’. You will know by now that 71-year-old Ozzy Osbourne, a man who has lived more lives than a cat with a crack habit and a motorcycle license, who has outlived countless rock’n’roll peers and who hails from an era of excess that now seems completely alien, recently revealed that he’s been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. NME recently visited him at his Los Angeles mansion, where he hilariously held court and, when asked about those spooky song titles, simply shrugged: “I always write my best songs about death.”
Indeed, ‘Goodbye’, far from being a maudlin meditation on impending doom, is a Black Sabbath-style hard rock banger on which the iron-voiced icon conjures up images of his own funeral and sneers at sentimentality: “Replace me now I’m gone / Black dresses, black roses / The world keeps turning on”. By the time a roaring guitar solo blows him away, it’s clear that Ozzy Osbourne – if there was any doubt – does not fear the reaper. Yet it is undeniably moving when he alludes to the fallen friends (the ghost of Motörhead’s Lemmy Kilmister haunts the track) he has outlived: “All my friends are waiting for me…”
There are plenty more Sabbath-style belters where that came from, though the theatrics are often played for laughs. Opener ‘Straight To Hell’ combines pummelling power chords with Ozzy’s fabulously daft warning, “I’ll make you scream / I’ll make you defecate!”, which is understandably enough followed by a Dracula-style guffaw. The punishing ‘Eat Me’ is ushered with a blast of harmonica, but eschews country stylings for spit-and-sawdust rock’n’roll that’s undercut by Ozzy bizarrely pitching himself as a belly buster: “I’m on the menu! / You won’t get indigestion! / I even come with desert!”
Ozzy Osbourne is having an absolute ball on ‘Ordinary Man’, and he’s not afraid to explore corners of the graveyard he’s hitherto untouched.
You wouldn’t necessarily pair the Wizard of Ozz with Elton John, a man who makes your nan look edgy, but their syrupy collaboration – the album’s title track – effectively offsets the chaos that surrounds it. Here Ozzy offers sincere introspection: “I was unprepared for fame”, he admits, surveying his kingdom. “Then everybody knew my name… Don’t forget me as the colours fade. When the lights go down / It’s just an empty stage.” It’s the closest this record comes to sounding like an emotional swansong.
Elsewhere he sounds like he has quicksilver in his veins. ‘It’s A Raid’, the Post Malone collaboration inspired by the time he ingested a mountain of cocaine, mistakenly believing that the coppers were onto him, barrels along with bug-eyed energy, sirens wailing away in the background and Posty slurring about needing a fag. We have the rapper to thank for this album – a mutual friend hooked them up and two ensuring collaborations, this track and ‘Take What You Want’, which appeared on Post’s celeb-stuffed 2019 album ‘Hollywood’ Bleeding’, got Ozzy’s creative juices flowing, resulting in his first solo album in a decade.
2010’s ‘Scream’ was inconsistent to say the least, but – perhaps against all odds – Ozzy sounds rejuvenated on ‘Ordinary Man’. Post Malone returns, alongside hip-hop titan Travis Scott, on the bassy ‘Take What You Want’, which improbably combines a gospel choir, a howling 1990s guitar solo and Scott’s staccato triplet flow. Ozzy Osbourne doesn’t exactly need young bucks to make him sound exciting, but the track does signal his enduring lust for life and willingness to try new things. He’s thrown down the gauntlet to Death with such gusto – the drugs, the booze, the time he nearly died from a manicure, apparently – that you might conclude that an open heart and open mind are an elixir.
Ozzy has insisted ‘Ordinary Man’ won’t be his last record, and told NME that he’s already preparing work on another. It’s tempting to hope that the fire in his belly will result in more magic, but Ozzy Osbourne has already done more for music and popular culture than anyone had any right to expect. For someone who helped to invent modern metal, he’s held a stunning number of surprises up his cloak sleeve (see: a wildly successful solo career and genre-defining reality TV show). This rollicking album is yet another.
‘Ordinary Man’? He’s clearly anything but.
Release date: Friday 21
Record label: Columbia