Ozzy Osbourne Breaks From Expected Metal Formula On ‘Ordinary Man’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

The joke of the title of Ozzy Osbourne’s Ordinary Man, his 12th solo album, and first in almost a decade, is that there’s nothing ordinary about the 71-year-old metal icon. And it’s true. Who else could release an album featuring Elton John, Slash and Travis Scott? But the title also speaks to Osbourne’s accessibility. Sure he bites the heads off of bats and goes by the Prince of Darkness, but his music, while heavy, reflects fairly mainstream tastes that have allowed him to thrive in metal since launching his solo career 40 years ago.

In many ways Osbourne is the opposite of a box of chocolates: you always know what you’re going to find. His albums have a formula but are never formulaic. He understands his audience wants a lot of guitar, some heavy ballads, and a healthy serving of straight-ahead metal, with the darkness coming not so much from the music, but from his lyrics. He’s never gone thrash. He’s never rapped. Instead, he’s stayed in the lane he paved with Black Sabbath, with mild sound tweaks to accommodate the ever-changing musical landscape.

Ordinary Man‘s tweaks include working with producer/guitarist Andrew Watt, who delivers plenty of note flurries, but contains them to specific parts of the song, a nod to contemporary metal norms, which are less about unspoken note-per-nanosecond quotas. But other than that, this flows right into Osbourne’s body of work.

The title track is fascinating for many reasons. One is the lyrics, which are about Osbourne wanting to be extraordinary, something too few celebrities will admit to. But as Osbourne sings about not wanting to “die an ordinary man,” he’s bringing in Elton John to join him on the track. John isn’t metal, but the two pair well together on classic rock radio, so as Osbourne is singing about wanting to keep his place in the public eye, he’s also constructing a song designed to help with that process. And then, as if John isn’t enough of a hook, Guns N’ Roses’ Slash comes in with a guitar solo right out of “November Rain.” Osbourne doesn’t want to be ordinary, but he’s quite game to court it.

While there’s certainly an argument for calling the ballad crass, it’s hard, if not impossible, to dislike the track. The sweet piano. The celestial background vocals. The two rock stars going toe-to-toe. Slash’s over-the-top solo. It all fits together perfectly, crying out to be released through a car stereo. Because while Osbourne made his name in metal, he knows his way around a ballad, from “Revelation (Mother Earth)” off of Blizzard of Ozz, his solo debut, to “Close My Eyes Forever,” his 1988 duet with Lita Ford, to “Mama, I’m Coming Home,” off of 1991’s No More Tears.

But true to form, Ordinary Man provides the rock and roll heft Osbourne’s fans crave. “Scary Little Green Men” features some of the neo-classical melodies he’s known for before careening into a groove that’s equal parts punk and metal. Even “It’s a Raid,” featuring rapper Post Malone has a manic, bratty energy that will give you whiplash. The album’s band includes Guns N’ Roses’ Duff McKagan on bass and Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers on drums and they’re obviously having a blast ripping through the faster songs.

One of the many impressive things about Osbourne is his understanding of his sound. He launched the Ozzfest tour (along with his wife, Sharon), which features just about every kind of metal one can imagine, without ever allowing any of those contemporary bands to contaminate his own music. Even on Ordinary Man, when he’s working with rappers, they’re either conforming to his sound, a la Malone, or else operating separately from him, as on his collaboration with Scott. Osbourne knows what his fans want, but perhaps more importantly, he also knows what he wants.

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One Response

  1. the album is horrible. his last good album which i cud even bear to listen from start to end was like almost 20 years ago in Down to Earth. Everything after that has been totally forgettable. Grew up listening to his stuff since the Sabbath days and sad to see how pathetic his music sounds now. he should just hang it up.

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