Ordinary Man

Ozzy Osbourne

Epic, 2020


REVIEW BY: Ben McVicker


Any time an album by a longtime performer kicks off with a bit of self-reference, I hesitate for a moment. Is this going to be an effort to capture the sound of the good old days? So begins Ozzy Osbourne’s twelfth studio album, Ordinary Man, with an outcry of “Alright now!” in reference to the Black Sabbath classic, “Sweet Leaf.” In a pleasant surprise, Ozzy has released an album very much of these COVID-19 times: having found a muse in writer, producer, and guitarist Andy Watt, Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith were flown in to record the music in four days. The album was completed in less than a month without the band ever congregating as a whole.

The unique recording circumstances aside, how are the songs on Ordinary Man? I’m torn on the question. At 71-years-old, Ozzy has fought a series of health battles since 2018, ranging from staph infections, to pneumonia, to spinal surgery, to Parkinson's disease. That Andy Watt’s recruitment of heavy metal’s godfather to collaborate on a rap song by Post Malone (“Take What You Want”) rejuvenated Ozzy’s interest in recording new material reads like a triumphant comeback. And Ozzy sounds genuinely energized and enthused on this record, as does Andy Watt, who turns in a formidable performance as the primary guitarist. Who’d have thought that a man better known for working with Justin Bieber and DJs could Zakk Wylde’s shoes and recruit a great rhythm section to boot? 

So there’s a lot to like about the album as far as where it sits in Ozzy’s career. As for the songs… “Straight To Hell” is a decent opener. A good heavy riff, a hard hitting rhythm section, and a guest guitar solo from Slash? It looks great on paper! But in sound…? Kind of average. Ozzy’s vocals are heavily layered, the melodies as simple as one can get, and the production is quite over-the-top with choral bits and laughs mixed in. And this sets the vibe for the album as a whole: a polished hard rock album without any surprises. “Goodbye” travels from a tip of the hat to “Iron Man” in its distorted vocal intro over a steady beat, to a slow and heavy groove, to a burst of speed with Chad Smith throwing great drumming. “Eat Me” has some great spots – a bellowing chorus, with some instrumental breaks that give an idea of what Andrew Watt, Duff McKagan, and Chad Smith’s jamming must’ve been like. And Ozzy’s bellowing cries on fast-paced rocker “It's A Raid” are pure fun, with Post Malone chipping in with a verse for good measure. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

On the other hand, the songs on Ordinary Man quickly become predictable: a simple melody buildup, a midway changeup, a heavy section interlude, then revert to a soft outro. Not that we’ve ever expected prog interludes in Ozzy’s songs, but when they all follow the same formula they blend together, with great parts sticking out instead of individual songs. The prerequisite ballads don’t add much to the album either. The best of them is “All My Life” with a nice groove and plenty of soloing from Andy Watt. Lyrically, it reminds me of “Road To Nowhere” from No More Tears (“For all my life /  I've been living in yesterday / All my life / A dollar short and a day too late”) when Ozzy flirted with retirement. Thirty years later, he is similarly retrospective, stating, “I was looking back on my life / And all the things I've done to me / I'm still looking for the answers / And I'm still searching for the key.” Elton John guests for a couple verses on “Ordinary Man,” which  feels like a throwback to “Dreamer” on Down To Earth (2001), while “Holy For Tonight” is a dose of melodrama buried in string and choir arrangements.

And while Post Malone’s “Take What You Want” deserves credit for sparking the songwriting partnership between Andy Watt and Ozzy Osbourne, it sticks out like a sore thumb as a closing number.

There are some great spots on Ordinary Man. Ozzy and Andy Watt clearly enjoyed writing and producing the album and have sung each other’s praises in interviews. At the same time, it’s a pity that the Watt/Smith/McKagan didn’t have more time to develop chemistry as a band, and an album that’s very personal does not always translate for the listeners. The Achilles heel for my tastes is the mixing. It’s kind of like going in expecting a stripped-down Rick Rubin production for a rock album and getting a sound made for pop radio instead, where autotuned vocals drown out the band at times.

Fans who were introduced to or otherwise enjoyed Ozzy’s music through albums like Down To Earth or Black Rain (2007) should bump my grade up by a letter. For those of us who stick to Ozzy’s first three or four albums, however, this one is take it or leave it.     

Rating: C+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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