The Madman, celebrated in thousands of tattoos, brings out a new album where past and future go hand in hand. Here’s our enthusiastic review.
Ten years. Ten long years have already passed since the last solo album from Ozzy Osbourne, the passable Scream of 2010. And now he’s back with Ordinary Man, the twelfth album from the British vocalist to remind us that time passes inexorably for all of us.
It’s not that Ordinary Man isn’t good, but it oozes melancholy, dejection and nostalgia from every pore. As if to remind us that Osbourne, 72 years old next December and afflicted with a number of physical problems including the dreadful Parkinson’s Disease, considers this album a sort of swan song. The final curtain of a glorious career: his. A bit like what happened with 13, the farewell album from Black Sabbath, with Ozzy singing at his most inspired, forged by the riffs of Tony Iommi ,which came out all of seven years ago.
Except that 13 was massive, dark and self-celebratory while Ordinary Man is aiming rathter for a Beatle-like tenderness (the delightful All my life) sublimated in the bitter-sweetness of a life lived too hard. A life which perhaps – only now – requires a profound existential philosophical summing up.
From this viewpoint, the ballads on the record have an incredible expressive force, starting with the magical duet with Elton John in the title track (a masterpiece that will leave you in awe, especially when the voice of Sir Elton chimes in), not to mention the single Under the graveyard’– which finishes in a speeded up finale with a distinctly Sabbath feel – and the symphonic glam, perhaps a little ho-hum, Holy for tonight. This last one is Elton to the bone and would not have been out of place in albums from the seventies such as Goodbye Yellow Brick Road or Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy.
And what about rock with a vein of metal ore? Well, even though this is no Diary of a Madman” or No Rest for the Wicked, there’s plenty of that because this is an album that also features Andrew Watt (the replacement for Zakk Wylde who gives it all he’s got without overdoing the distortion and harmonic effects), Duff McKagan from Guns N’ Roses and Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, naturally enough without his usual funky drumming here.
So let’s get down to the hard stuff then. Goodbye, which opens with vocal effects worthy of Sabbath’s Iron Man, has a grungy edge. Eat me is pure hard rock madness. Today is the end is more familiar material with its gloomy arpeggios while Scary little green men unleashes the talent of Tom Morello of Rage Against The Machine. A guest appearance which is decidedly more worthwhile than that of Slash who gives a rather lacklustre performance, both on the opener Straight to hell and Ordinary man (where, as already mentioned, the lion’s share of the praise goes to Elton John who sings a few lines).
The album closes with the two pseudo-experimental tracks that have caused the most stir, the collaborations with the rapper Post Malone. Stuff to set the web on fire with controversy. In It’s a raid you can’t but smile at Ozzy trying a sort of punk/hardcore that is so far from his usual style, but he still manages to carry it off in style.
The last track though, is a bit disconcerting, and Take what you want (with a contribution by Travis Scott), is trap, pure and simple, and Ozzy limits himself to shrieking the chorus amid an ocean of technological trickery, Auto-Tune and blues solos that seem to wed the 1970 of Black Sabbath with the 2020 of Drake, ASAP Rocky and Post Malone. Blasphemy? Not a bit of it. Especially for a man who in 1998 was already collaborating (and doing a good job of it too) with one Busta Rhymes.
In fact, what a song like Take what you want seems to be saying loud and clear is that there’s always a surprise just round the corner. Even when you are over seventy and cancel one tour after the other because of evident health issues. Because, who knows, maybe a year from now, you’ll be coming out with another album and a mega tour that’ll take you all over the world? Because, when all is said and done, your name is Ozzy Osbourne. And, no matter what you tell us, you will never die a nobody.