2/28/2020

Hard Rock Review: Ozzy Osbourne - Ordinary Man

Release Date: December 21, 2019
Label: Epic
Website
From the graveyard fog, The Prince of Darkness has reemerged with his first set of solo material in a decade. With a little help from his friends, Ozzy Osbourne has managed to pull together a respectable assembly of tracks that will satisfy the pop-metal audience he helped to define after striking out on his own in the early '80s. One look at the artwork on Ordinary Man and song titles such as "Under the Graveyard," "Scary Little Green Men," and "Straight to Hell," and you'll appreciate that Ozzy is serving up more of the same delights you've come to love over the years. On the other hand, you know what you're getting, and the menu hasn't changed much. It is not entirely Ozzy's fault. When you make your bed (or dig your grave) by defining a genre, it is hard not to lie in it.  

Overall, the sound on Ordinary Man is both dense and tight. Ozzy's all-star band includes Guns N' Roses alum Duff McKagen and Slash, Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith, and guitarist Andrew Watt.  The sound fuses Ozzy's signature confessional soliloquies with the expected onslaughts of heavy metallic riffing. The resulting formula will scare demons from the darkness and into the light of day where they burn to ashes in the heat of the sun.   Then, out of nowhere, Elton John appears, dueting with Ozzy on the oddest song on the album, the title track, "Ordinary Man." The pairing reminds one of an old Rodney Dangerfield joke. "I was an earth sign; she was a water sign. Together we made mud." The song pastes together so much of the past; it is hard to see the present or the future. Jeff Lynne of ELO might want to pay attention to the closing orchestral sequence, which borrows directly from his 1974 hit "Can't Get it Out of my Head." 

Ordinary Man steers itself back onto the road with a handful of solid metal standards. "Straight to Hell" is textbook Ozzy with driving riffs, staccato bass, and drums.  His lyricism remains poignant on this track and prominent throughout the album. Ozzy calls back to "Sweet Leaf" peppering in a few "alright now"'s into the proceedings for old time's sake. "All My Life" is a thoughtful rumination that rises from a sentimental strumming reminiscent of "Goodbye to Romance" to a thrashing crescendo.  

"Under the Graveyard" is a flat-out metal anthem and worthy of inclusion on any Ozzy Greatest Hits collection. The inventor of the heavy-metal hook takes hold on this haunting canticle. "It's a Raid" is the one collaboration on the album that works well and finds Ozzy breaking at least a bit out of his comfort zone. The vocal riffing with Post Malone over the punk/hardcore metal backdrop is a blend of old and new, which is less like water and earth making mud and more like the pleasure, one derives after kicking a trash can over or smashing a mailbox.  Yet there are moments on this song and others where Ozzy appears as a cartoon parody of himself.  It is as if, the record execs took a listen and said there isn't enough ghoulishness or tacky Halloween decorations to scare the kids off the front yard.  This mischaracterization has followed Ozzy throughout his career, and the man and the music deserve better.  Trick or treaters were never quite Ozzy's audience.  Leave that to KISS. Kids in hoodies smoking cigarettes in the graveyard are.  

As the final track on Ordinary Man faded, I realized that the struggles of an aging rockstar are not unlike those of the disaffected and marginalize youth whom Ozzy influenced in his own youth. Even at 71, Ozzy skillfully pens lyrics to which either end of the spectrum can relate. This time, however, he's further from the cradle than the grave. With the recent cancellation of his 2020 tour due to health (Parkinson's) issues, this could potentially be the last new music he releases. If so, I give thanks to the Prince of Darkness. His legacy of hauntingly inviting demons into my soul and then exorcising them all within the constraints of a five-minute song will endure forever. 

- Tom Endyke | Guitar & Pen | MuzikMan.net Staff

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