Regular readers will know that I rarely give a bad review, preferring not to review something than to waste my time slating it. However, sometimes a prominent enough artist releases something I need warn people against and, a couple of years ago, that was the legendary Ozzy Osbourne, who had put out not just another sub-par album, Ordinary Man, in a series of sub-par albums dating back all the way to the nineties, but one that was often rather awful. As he's hardly prolific nowadays, I had precious little expectation left that he might put out another classic one day and hoped in my last line that he'd release an album that doesn't fundamentally disappoint.
Well, here I am only two years later and this is that album. No, it's not Blizzard of Ozz and it's not Bark at the Moon but it's doesn't fundamentally disappoint and it's actually pretty damn good. It took you long enough to get back to form, Oz! If this is what happens when a crisis hits and you see going home as a priority because the States has got too crazy even for you, then thank you, COVID. Now, Ozzy has included at least couple of strong songs on every album he's released, even the sub-par ones, but consistency has long eluded him until now. This is the most consistent album he's put out since the last millennium.
Like Ordinary Man, he ignores his current touring band in favour of a different set of musicians, in this case a collection of them worthy of "featuring" credits on most of the tracks. Zakk Wylde is on a bunch of them, nine of thirteen, though multi-instrumentalist Andrew Watt is on even more, No Escape from Now being the sole exception. However, the guests are notables indeed: Ozzy's Black Sabbath bandmate Tony Iommi on two, Jeff Beck on two and Mike McCready, Josh Homme and, of all people, Eric Clapton, on one each. Bass players include Robert Trujillo, Duff McKagan and Chris Chaney of Jane's Addiction; while Chad Smith and the late Taylor Hawkins divvy up the drumming duties. Those aren't minor names.
The good news is that they don't trip each other up trying to show off. The side benefit is that the guests don't make this album, they just elevate it. It's a good album because the songwriting is of a higher quality than usual, the consistency is there for the first time in forever and even Ozzy is a little less over-produced than has tended to be the case of late. Having Jeff Beck show up to slap a solo on a couple of songs is just a bonus.
Actually, the best song from a guitar standpoint is surely the first of Iommi's pair, No Escape from Now, which is joyous from the outset but really gets moving at the four minute mark and leaves us grinning. Wylde gets quite a few moments to shine, with Mr. Darkness particularly strong because of what he has to bring to the table. And, while he's been a disappointment to the human race lately, Clapton has a lot of fun on One of Those Days, along with Duff McKagan and James Poyser of the Roots joining in for good measure. It's very much an Ozzy song but Clapton's touch is definitely recognisable.
And I have to get out of the mindset of expecting to follow a paragraph like that one with a note to bemoan how that's all the good stuff, because it isn't here. Sure, some of these songs are clearly better than others, but none of them let the side down and I enjoyed every one of them, from the opening title track of a single, which wanders into Alice Cooper territory, to the skimpy harmonica-led outro, Darkside Blues, which lives up to that name and could have been longer without losing its welcome. I didn't even feel that the token power ballad, God Only Knows, got in the way.
Welcome back, Ozzy. Not only did you knock out a strong album after I thought you'd ever do that again, you did it with over an hour of music. Now, if this is the model that's going to do the trick, I hope you bring a smörgåsbord of talent into the studio in a couple more years to get a moment on a track or three with the Prince of Darkness and we get another treat out of it.