Style: Heavy Metal
Release Date: 21 Feb 2020
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Every now and then, people play the musical what if game and I roll my eyes. Often it's the 27 club. What if Jimi Hendrix hadn't died at 27? Imagine what he would have achieved in those extra decades! What about Brian Jones, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison? It's not just that era either, because there's Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse, not to mention the original, Robert Johnson. What extra wonders would they have woven in sound had they lived?
Well, nowadays I listen to Ozzy Osbourne and think in reverse. What would we think of Ozzy had he died at 27. He would have released six groundbreaking albums with Black Sabbath, up to Sabotage, only the second Sabbath album to be critically acclaimed, so his place in the history of heavy metal would be secure. We would rightly see him as a legend and wonder about what else the future might have brought for him.
Would we have imagined his being fired from Sabbath but reinventing himself with the Blizzard of Ozz? Would we have imagined Randy Rhoads or Zakk Wylde? Would we imagined Crazy Train, Mr. Crowley or Bark at the Moon? There were some great years after he turned 27. I enjoyed him live earlier this decade, but I realise that much of that was nostalgia. The last good Ozzy album may be No More Tears in 1991 and the last great one may be The Ultimate Sin all the way back in 1986.
In other words, he's been putting out sub-par albums for longer now than any member of the 27 Club spent alive on this planet and this is another one. It has its moments, certainly, but even on a catchy, hook-laden single such as Straight to Hell, his voice is wildly overproduced, sounding like what an AI might create if fed the entirety of Ozzy's solo output. All right now! Ha ha ha ha ha! This is Ozzy as a catchphrase spouting cartoon.
The line-up on this album is a surprising one, given that it doesn't feature even one of the current touring band members, from Wylde on down, but it's a really impressive core four piece band, led by Andrew Watt. He's a renowned multi-instrumentalist who's the guitarist throughout this album, though both Slash and Tom Morello guest. Watt also produced. Duff McKagan, from Guns n' Roses and Velvet Revolver, plays bass on all but one track. The only drummer is Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Chickenfoot.
And they do a strong job, even if the production is sometimes a little bass heavy, providing a solid bedrock for Ozzy and a number of guests to do their thing over. The most obvious are Elton John, who plays piano and duets with Ozzy on the title track, and rapper Post Malone who appears on the final two songs. Take What You Want is truly awful, an unholy mess of autotuned vocals and programmed drums. It's a Raid could easly be called a mess too but it's an engaging one: vibrant, alive and the punkiest I've ever heard Ozzy, even if his vocals are still so overproduced that they're almost plastic.
For all its flaws, Straight to Hell is a catchy enough single to stick in my brain the way that all the best solo Ozzy songs do. The other highlight for me is Scary Little Green Men, which is stupid but fun and also catchy. That Jason Momoa preview is golden too. Add the fuzzy sample-laden riot of It's a Raid and that's three strong tracks out of eleven. Take What You Want is so abysmal that I couldn't even finish it. The other seven songs range from OK to poor, some of which I still can't remember after listening to the entire album twice through in succession.
Most of this is best described as Ozzy by numbers and, even if I still hold out a little hope that the Godfather of Metal will surprise us the way he's surprised us before and hurl a classic album out of nowhere, I'm not at all confident he has time left to do it. Ordinary Man comes ten years after the underwhelming Scream and it's only Ozzy's fifth solo album this millennium. I'm glad he's not a member of the 27 Club and he's still around to serve as the icon he is. I just wish he'd release an album that doesn't fundamentally disappoint.