“I thought they’d all tell me to fuck off, to be honest.” Ozzy Osbourne’s joyous cackle suggests that he still can’t quite believe that the names Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton will be printed beneath his own in the credits for Patient Number 9, his new, thirteenth, solo album.
Rather sweetly, the 73-year singer, one of the most instantly identifiable and influential rock stars on the planet, is transformed into a gushing fan-boy when the subject of the two English guitar legends’ surprise cameos on his forthcoming record is raised. Even more sweetly, he puts forward his belief that his invitation to Jimmy Page to participate in the album sessions may have gone unanswered due to Page having upgraded to a new phone.
“It wasn’t that he didn’t want to do it,” Ozzy insists, “[but] he never responded to my text. So I’m thinking that he’s bought a new phone, because [otherwise] he would have picked up the phone.”
It’s early afternoon in Los Angeles, the city that John Michael Osbourne has largely called home since the late 1970s, when his future wife and manager Sharon Arden scraped his barely sentient, alcohol-and-cocaine-pickled body off the filthy floor of his blacked-out hotel room at Hollywood’s Le Parc hotel, and gave the oblivion-seeking singer the kick up the arse he so desperately needed in order to contemplate re-engaging with an industry with which he’d become thoroughly disillusioned long before his estranged, exasperated and equally exhausted partners in Black Sabbath kicked him to the kerb as the shared dream they had conceived a decade earlier turned stale, then sour.
Ozzy’s upbeat mood today is a genuine pleasure to behold, given that in mid-June he underwent gruelling surgical procedures that Sharon [now Osbourne, of course] openly admitted would “determine the rest of his life”. Later this afternoon he’s scheduled to make his first public appearance since his invasive operation, with an appearance at the renowned Comic-Con International weekender in San Diego, alongside Spawn creator Todd McFarlane, the artist who conceived the artwork for Patient Number 9.
But by his own admission, Ozzy still faces a prolonged programme of physical therapy, five days every week, before he can realistically begin to entertain the idea of taking to the stage once more to begin his much rearranged and seemingly cursed No More Tears II tour, which at present is set to continue until June 2023.
“I’m getting there,” he promises, “It’s been really tough going at times over the past few years, and I’ve never been laid up for this long in my life, but it’ll just take time. One of the reasons I made this record is so that people don’t forget me, and by hook or by crook I’ll be on stage again one day to say thank you to the fans. If I can’t, I can’t, but my desire is strong. There’s nothing like a good gig. This recovery is hard work, but right now I’m in a great place in my head, despite all the negative energy in the world.”
A reassuringly robust modern metal album, the highly engaging Patient Number 9 (released in September) is the followup to 2020’s much-garlanded Ordinary Man, which, in debuting at No.3 in the UK, gave Ozzy his highest-ever UK chart placing as a solo artist.
Like that predecessor, the 13-track Patient Number 9 was directed, co-written and produced by Andrew Watt, formerly the guitarist in short-lived blues-rock supergroup California Breed alongside Glenn Hughes and Jason Bonham, and now better known for his collaborations with A-List pop stars Post Malone, Miley Cyrus, Dua Lipa, Justin Bieber and more.
Ozzy was introduced to the gifted 31-year-old New York-born polymath by his youngest daughter, Kelly, and Ozzy recalls that he and Watt bonded immediately. The younger man brought not only an infectious, can-do energy and a fresh, modern vision to the Ordinary Man project, but also a bulging contacts book; the album’s credits included Elton John, Post Malone, Tom Morello, Slash and Duff McKagan.
Remarkably, with his second full-length collaboration with Ozzy, Watt has trumped that star-studded cast. Patient Number 9 has input not only from the aforementioned English guitar gods, and Ozzy’s regular sidekick Zakk Wylde, but also Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready, Red Hot Chill Pepper Chad Smith, Metallica’s Robert Trujillo, late and much-missed Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins and, perhaps its most unexpected cast member, Ozzy’s former Black Sabbath bandmate Tony Iommi, whose trademark riffing can be heard on two pleasingly doomy tracks: recent single Degradation Rules and No Escape From Now.
Album highlights include the hook-heavy Immortal (“written about a vampire”, Ozzy reveals), with guest guitarist McCready revelling in his fulfilment of lifelong heavy metal dreams; the classy Beatles-esque ballad A Thousand Shades, elevated by a stunning cameo by Jeff Beck and a poignant lyric (‘There’s a thousand different shades of darkness colouring our fate/The past is dead, the future’s haunted, what happened to today?’); and Mr Darkness, which evokes the spirit of Ozzy’s stunning rebirth in 1980 with Blizzard Of Ozz, while drawing on twisted fan-letter fantasies.
There’s room too for a Beach Boys tribute (an understated take on the Pet Sounds album classic God Only Knows) and, bizarrely, a rather random tip of the hat to Jim Carrey’s irreverent 1994 superhero caper The Mask, with the knowing mid-song ejaculation: ‘Somebody stop me!'
Truthfully, the arrival of a new Ozzy Osbourne album in 2022 might come as something of a surprise to many, given the sombre, often sweetly nostalgic tone of much of his previous album, not least Ordinary Man’s reflective and tender title track: ‘Don’t forget me as the colours fade, when the lights go down it’s just an empty stage,’ one striking lyric ran, which bore all the hallmarks of a gracious and grateful parting shot from a national treasure exiting stage left.
To be fair, at the time of its release Ozzy was adamant that he felt he had much more to give. Indeed when I hitched a ride on his spring 2018 South American tour, attending shows in Mexico and Chile, the revitalising impact of a triumphant live performance on his physical and mental wellbeing was palpable and a true joy to witness.
Today he is adamant that, on his part, thoughts of retirement were never entertained seriously. He also intimates that Patient Number 9 would already be out, had the small matter of a global pandemic not forced him to abandon studio sessions pencilled in for just weeks after the February 21, 2020 global release of Ordinary Man, his most warmly received solo album since 1991’s No More Tears.
“The one thing that kept my head above water during the past four years was making these albums,” he admits. “That stopped me thinking about me, because I was concentrating on the records. “Andrew is great, he’s really clever, he’s got loads of ideas and he works really fast, which is perfect for me. He’s very gracious and patient with me, because at times making this record I was having to lie down every five minutes because my neck was aching so bad.”
While the road ahead for the ageing Prince of Darkness is not yet fully mapped out, he can draw succour and spiritual inspiration for new adventures in the unknown from the fire and fearless spirit displayed in the contributions made to his new album by maestros Beck, Clapton and Iommi, three men older than him who have nothing left to prove to anyone but themselves, as Osbourne himself is only too aware.
Although he jokes that their cameos may have been born out of sheer boredom – “Don’t forget they’ve been sitting in their houses just like I have. Everyone’s been going nuts” – there’s genuine appreciation and respect in his voice when he salutes the trio, who he hails as “masters of their craft”.
“Tony and I go back to our school days, obviously, but he can still surprise me,” Ozzy admits. “At first I thought he wouldn’t do it, but fair play to the guy. Whatever you say, Tony Iommi is the best there is at coming up with riffs. No Escape From Now would have been a great Sabbath track. But Sabbath are over. We made our work.”
Elsewhere, in Ozzy’s considered opinion Jeff Beck’s playing on Patient Number 9 is “fucking awesome”, and he salutes Clapton’s flourishes on the excellent One Of Those Days as “fucking great”. The latter song features the chorus lyric: ‘One of those days that I don’t believe in Jesus’, and there’s more than a hint of mischief in Ozzy’s voice when he predicts: “That’s going to cause shit, I suppose. It’s not an ‘I am an anti-Christ’ song,” he clarifies.
“It’s about those days where everything goes fucking wrong, and you’re going nuts trying to fix everything up. At first when Eric Clapton heard it, he said: ‘Oh, I’m not sure about that lyric.’ So we tried to replace it with some alternatives. We did ‘One of those days where I don’t believe in Christmas’ but it didn’t sound right. Losing faith in Jesus makes much more sense when the world is turning to shit."
“I think that song and the whole album turned out great,” Ozzy says. “But, that said, I’ve never gone into the studio and said: 'This time I think I’ll make a bad record. The best record is always the one you do next.'
“Obviously I hear sadness when I listen to it, because of what happened with Taylor Hawkins. I met him a few times. He first introduced himself to me saying that Dave Grohl was his boss. He was great, such a lovely guy. He actually worked with me the week before he went away [to play with Foo Fighters in South America]. So sad.
“I’m seventy-three now, and I was saying to Sharon the other day that so many of our friends are dying now. When you’re young, someone you know might die every three or five years, but when you reach your seventies it seems like there’s someone dying every five seconds. The most valuable gift any of us have now is time.”
And time marches on, and the Osbourne clan is swelling: Ozzy’s son Jack Osbourne and his partner, fashion designer Aree Gearhart, welcomed a daughter in July, while daughter Kelly Osbourne and her partner, Slipknot’s masked Sid Wilson, are expecting a boy.
“Kelly is doing great,” dad gushes. “Did I imagine that Sid would become family when I took Slipknot on their first big tour in 1999? Of course not, I’d no fucking idea. But Kelly can love who she wants, and she loves him dearly.”
Asked what else he’s looking forward to in 2022, Ozzy instantly responds with: “My recovery,” and says he’s literally taking it step by step, day by day. He and Sharon, he insists, are ready to pack their bags, leave America and return home to England. And the day when they actually do make that move might lie not too far in the future, given that the family’s home in Los Angeles’s exclusive Hancock Park district is now listed for sale – for a tidy $17.5 million – should any Classic Rock readers with deep pockets be looking for a change of scenery.
As for John Michael Osbourne, he still has dreams of his own.
“I still want to have a number one record in England,” he says. “And this album is worthy of being the one. No one thought Sabbath would hit number one with our last album, 13, so why not dream? I’ve done my best, and I’m happy, now it’s up to the fans to decide its fate.”
There’s another reassuringly filthy cackle from chez Osbourne.
“Whatever happens,” the man of the house says cheerily, “I won’t let the world forget about me!”