There’s a case that Ozzy Osbourne operates best with his back to the wall. In 1980, the singer turned his ousting from Black Sabbath into a redemptive solo career. Three years later he weathered the death of talismanic guitarist Randy Rhoads to make Bark At The Moon.
Now, after last year’s fall, postponed shows, neck surgery and Parkinson’s diagnosis, he has serious grist for his mill, and a twelfth album that comes off the ropes swinging.
Reading Ozzy’s scant promotional soundbites, you expect Ordinary Man to sound exhausted, like a hellhound flogged half to death (“I was going, ‘I haven’t got the fucking strength.’ But Andrew [Watt, producer] pulled it out of me”).
You’d never guess. His vocals are gleeful and feline, and these 11 songs are full of purpose, starting with the crunchy, proggy Straight To Hell. ‘I’ll make you scream,’ he vows. Then, more worryingly: ‘I’ll make you defecate.’ Well, fortunately not, but other bodily functions may be affected by this visceral, emotionally naked album.
Eat Me has the album’s toughest riff and an enjoyably literal lyric (‘My meat is nice and tender’). Today Is The End kicks off like Enter Sandman’s maladjusted cousin, before Ozzy’s melodic instincts sugar the pill. Holy For Tonight’s instrumental break is pure Beatles, as is the title ballad, with Elton John tickling ivories and taking the second verse.
Shifting between stormy verses and a whipcrack double-time section, the five-minute Goodbye feels like the album’s fulcrum, one of many openly valedictory moments (‘It’s over, so over, too late to turn back now’).
Even so, Ozzy’s humour remains intact, the song ending with feedback like a whistling kettle and him asking: “Is it tea-time yet? Do they serve tea in heaven?” Ozzy admits to wondering: “Who the fuck is Post Malone?” when encouraged to work with the New York rapper. But It’s A Raid is a brilliant, garage-punky curve ball, an ageless Ozzy raging and cussing like he’s just knocked off from the abattoir circa 1968.
A shame about the second Post Malone hook-up, though, Take What You Want, with fellow guest rapper Travis Scott dominating vocals and the icy electronic beats jarring horribly. If this is Ozzy’s swansong – and his lyric sheet, advancing age and postmillennial work rate suggest that’s not inconceivable – then, like Sabbath’s 13, it’s a credible end to an extraordinary career. But if history has taught us anything, it’s to never write him off.