At this point, you can say whatever you like about Ozzy Osbourne. He’s a bit deaf from over 50 years of being an absolute legend, co-architect of heavy metal and survivor of multiple near- death experiences and, famously, can’t fucking hear you. Whether the great man will ever make a full return to live performance seems questionable, but he deserves a huge amount of credit for powering through those well-documented health issues and recording a second studio album in two years.
Even more deserving of praise is the fact that Patient Number 9 is really, really good. By ditching the streamlined, radio-banger approach of its predecessor in favour of a darker, heavier, more nuanced strain of epic metal, Ozzy has conjured some of his strongest material in decades.
What Patient… does have in common with 2020’s Ordinary Man is a raft of guest appearances. The stars that lend their talents to these songs are all guitarists, and all of a certain vintage, with Zakk Wylde the most prominent among them. The result is aimed squarely at both old- and new-school Ozzy fans and the classic rock firmament in general. The opening title track provides an extravagant showcase for the legendary Jeff Beck, with Ozzy in fine voice amid a shape-shifting, prog-tinged arrangement, with a killer chorus that doesn’t take the expected route, and a woozy folk rock coda. Similarly, Eric Clapton weaves his trademark bluesy licks around One Of Those Days’ gently lysergic verses and strident, rootsy chorus. Thankfully we’re spared any of Eric’s ‘opinions’ on race relations or the efficacy of lockdown measures, and his solo is genuinely great, so small mercies and all that.
The rest of Patient… is a feast of effervescent, melodic and often monstrously heavy anthems. Immortal has near-chewable echoes of Ozzy’s early 80s creative peak, several brilliant riffs and a scorching lead from Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready. Parasite and Evil Shuffle bring Ozzy back together with Zakk, with all the razor- sharp hooks and barbarous, bluesy thunder that fans have come to expect. Bruising, unpredictable and lyrically spiky, Mr. Darkness is even better.
The obvious highlight comes when Ozzy joins forces with Tony Iommi, for the first time ever on one of his solo records. No Escape From Now is glorious. Awash with nods to the old days (that Planet Caravan vocal effect in particular), it’s a doomy, tripped-out labyrinth of ideas, and easily the equal of anything on Black Sabbath’s 13. The bruising blues metal of Degradation Rules is very nearly as good.
Despite everything you may have heard about Ozzy being on his last legs, Patient Number 9 unequivocally does not sound like the work of a man living on borrowed time. Instead, it sounds like the Prince of fucking Darkness having an absolutely smashing time, with a bunch of his mates and, weirdly, a newfound sense of artistic ambition.
‘Don’t forget me, even when I do…’ he sings on the gorgeous, Zakk-augmented Nothing Feels Right. Daft bastard. As if.