Artist: Ozzy Osbourne
Producer: Andrew Watt and Louis Bell
Genre: Heavy Metal (Classic)
Ozzy Osbourne is known as the Godfather of heavy metal. His work with Black Sabbath is widely considered to be the beginning of the heavy metal genre. He and Sabbath inspired musicians to explore heavier sounds and darker themes to broaden the entire metal genre over the next few decades. The crowned “Prince of Darkness” began performing in the 70’s as the frontman for Black Sabbath. After a few years, Ozzy left Sabbath and went solo. He released one successful album before returning, and eventually was kicked out again until the reunion tour of 2012. Supposedly, he was kicked out due to the massive amounts of drugs and alcohol he consumed and how it was affecting his performances. Ozzy maintains he never consumed any more drugs than the rest of the band, however.
Ozzy’s music has inspired so many different musicians, bands, vocalists, and producers through the past five decades. I myself grew up listening to Black Sabbath and Ozzy’s solo work. I loved the guitar work, the heavy and poetic lyrics, and Ozzy’s hilarious antics on stage. So, it’s for this reason it pains me to say that his newest album, Ordinary Man released in February 2020, is the worst Ozzy album to date. His vocals are tired and weak, the lyrics are uninspired and miserable, and the production quality leaves a lot to be desired. The musicians are great, though, despite the abysmal recordings. He recruited the help of several successful musicians and vocalists including (but not limited to) Andrew Watt, Louis Bell, Duff McKagan, Chad Smith, Slash, Tom Morello, Charlie Puth, Elton John, Post Malone, Travis Scott, and Kelly Osbourne.
So, what exactly about this album made it difficult to enjoy?
Spiritual Content: Lyrics reflect a hopeless existence where God cannot forgive man, specifically Ozzy. Several mentions of there being a party in hell and all his friends are there. Mentions of purgatory also.
Violence: Mentions of suicide and murder, cannibalism, aliens attacking, having guns. Loose reference to shooting “feds.” Several references to blood and bleeding throughout the album.
Language: The F word is used liberally on the tracks “It’s a Raid” and “Take What You Want.” The word s**t is also mentioned in these tracks. The word “hell” is mentioned many times in different tracks.
Drug/Alcohol References: Several references to alcohol and drinking, although not in a positive light. There’s a mention of being “out of cigarettes.”
Other Negative Themes: Dark, hopeless, depressing lyrics. A cry for help in most songs. A whole song about dying in a graveyard. One song is entirely about aliens taking over and killing off humans. Travis Scott uses the word “hoes” in a derogatory way in the final track.
Positive Content: Ozzy touches on social issues (school shootings, government trying to control the people) and it seems like he wants to put the media on blast for how it handles issues.
Let’s begin with the lyrics. Ozzy Osbourne has always made music with dark, depressing, and often occult-like lyrics. Songs about death or suicide alongside songs about hell and being evil incarnate are nothing new. This album upholds this morbid tradition. It’s almost concerning how many times on Ordinary Man Ozzy says he wants to die or talks about how hopeless his life has become. Take this example from from track three, titled “Goodbye”: “The crowd is still waiting / I took my final bow / It’s over, so over / Too late to turn back now / I’m sorry, so sorry / I gave my life a try / Forgive me, forgive me / I didn’t say goodbye.”
Another difficult song is “Under the Graveyard.” Ozzy is practically begging for people to help and save him from himself. At the same time, he is asking to be left alone to die because he hates who he has become. “Today, I woke up and I hate myself / Death doesn’t answer when I cry for help / No high could save me from the depths of Hell / I’ll drown my mind until I’m someone else.” That last line makes one wonder if he’s referring to his alcohol and/or drug addiction. Ozzy has struggled with drug and alcohol addiction for almost all of his life, oftentimes causing legal troubles for the heavy metal legend.
To his credit, Ozzy also discusses social issues on this album. The song “Today Is The End,” is about school shootings. In the song, he calls out the media for splattering shooters’ faces and names everywhere, but never the person who stopped them or stood up. “Their silence echoes with rage / How many more will it take? (You reap what you sow) / When we’re no longer afraid / The devil loves a parade (You animal).” The song “It’s a Raid” seems to be about not trusting the government and dealing with the paranoia that often accompanies that distrust. I feel in our tense political climate, this song would, sadly, resonate with many people. “I hear them breathing on my telephone / I know I’m never alone / I been to places you should never go.”
In “Holy For Tonight,” Ozzy appears to be crying out to God for forgiveness or help. Notable lyrics from this track are found in verse one, “Pray for me, father, for I know not what I do / I am the monster, yeah, you must have read the news / Don’t know how it started, but I know just how it ends / Pray for me, father, ’cause I’m runnin’ out of friends.” Ozzy has stated many times he is a member of the Church of England and prays to God before each live show. He’s been called a Satanist many times by the media and people who believe his music encourages violence, suicide, or even occult involvement.
Then, there is the song “Scary Little Green Men” which is about aliens infiltrating our planet and taking over the human race. This is also nothing new to Ozzy, as he’s also written songs like “Fairies Wear Boots” and “Paranoid,” which are basically written from the point of view of a madman. “Scary Little Green Men” fits right along with the brand of insanity Ozzy is so well known for. “They want us, they need us / They might just try to eat us / They’ll greet us, deceive us / Say, “Take us to your leader” / Everybody wants them until we meet them / Everybody wants them, it’s the end / Scary little green men, do you believe in / Scary little green men? It’s the end.”
The vocals on this album are typical for Ozzy. They’re a little more slurred than they used to be when he was younger, but that’s expected to happen with age and heavy drug use. Sir Elton John makes an appearance during a song’s verse, which is surprising considering their different music styles. Sir Elton nails his part with clarity, as is expected from the bedazzled legend. Later on the album, Post Malone and Travis Scott join on two tracks. This is another strange pairing again for the same reason, except the two young rappers do not have the same level of talent as Sir Elton. Post Malone and Travis Scott use heavy auto-tune which suggests they are either not able to match pitch or to sustain the melody vocally. Autotune may also be used stylistically, but in this case, it’s doubtful.
Ozzy has the same high treble sound on his vocals. This makes his yelling more prominent and effective and his low singing parts punchier. He uses a chorus effect to make his voice sound fuller and a delay/reverb to add to the creepy nature of his music. This has been his same style since he joined Black Sabbath in the early 70’s. It works well with the style of music he sings with, so I expected this to be the same sound on Ordinary Man.
Now let’s talk about the good part of this album: The music. The sound is heavy, driving, and exactly like the music Ozzy has been singing along to for 50 years. He has several powerhouse musicians working behind his vocals to keep that dark, heavy metal sound alive. Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers plays drums on every song. The drums are tight and loud, adding just the right amount of double-bass drum and cymbals in the breakdowns. Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and Slash of Guns N’ Roses provide excellent guitar work on two tracks each. Charlie Puth and Sir Elton John each play piano on separate tracks. It’s harder to hear the piano part where Puth is playing (“Straight to Hell”), but Sir Elton plays on the same track he sings, which is piano led (title track “Ordinary Man”). In reading through the band credits, Ozzy has an entire orchestra on this album and it suits it perfectly. The strings and choir vocals add a haunting layer to each song. I would expect nothing less from the “Prince of Darkness.”
The album art leaves a lot to be desired. I feel like I’ve said this repetitively in this review: It’s very typical Ozzy. It’s a black background with gray smoke. Ozzy stands in the middle of the frame with his mouth open and eyes wild. His hands rest on the top of a cane and he has bat wings attached to each shoulder. The only strange thing I see is he’s wearing a bowler hat, which does not seem very “dark” or “satanic,” unless you consider those hats devilish. The title of the album, Ordinary Man, is also interesting. The “i” in “ordinary” is a cross, which makes it appear to say “ordtnary.” It’s easy to see what it should say, but that doesn’t make it any less strange.
If you’re already an Ozzy Osbourne fan, you may still enjoy this album. The music is solid and heavy, just like we’ve come to expect from Ozzy. The album falls short when it comes to imaginative lyrics and clear, steady vocals. I wouldn’t recommend this album, personally. It’s one of his worst releases to date. If you’re wanting to listen to Ozzy, just go back to the 70’s and 80’s and listen to his good albums.
It’s a real shame that as a practicing member of the Church of England, Ozzy still believes himself to be unforgivable. The darkness and depression that seem to envelop Ozzy is more spiritual than even he may realize. I would pray that God open Ozzy’s eyes to see his real love and grace before it’s too late. Sometimes, all it takes is one person to be the light to someone in a dark place. I hope that someone shows up for Ozzy soon.
The Bottom Line
As inspiring as Ozzy’s work has been these past five decades, this album was a huge disappointment. If anything, it has proven there comes a time, especially in the music industry, where we must evolve and adapt to the “new” or retire in our success.