Photo Credit: Ilya S. Savenok
Other than “Elvis,” there’s probably only one other first name in rock which when spoken by itself is shorthand for not just a musical genre but also an entire subculture. Of course we mean (cue echo and deep voice): “Ooooooooozzzzzzzyyyyyyyy.” At the beginning of the Seventies, Mr. John Michael Osbourne and his band Black Sabbath took blues-based power trio rock which bands like Cream, Led Zeppelin and Vanilla Fudge had already established and peppered it with occult-influenced lyrics and artwork, hence creating heavy metal and the type of imagery which still adorns sleeveless jean jackets around the world fifty years later. After going solo in the Eighties, Ozzy became singularly synonymous with all of that, a position unshaken after MTV-friendly pretty boy Robert Plant clone frontmen became standard in hard rock, or when grunge or then nu metal dominated the rock scene.
In the early 2000s Ozzy, his wife and two of his five kids became the subject of a reality series called The Osbournes. It was a funny and poignant weekly half hour which also had some unfortunate side effects: namely, creating the celebreality TV genre, indirectly subjecting us all to the Kardashians and possibly baring some responsibility for the Trump presidency. Additionally, it altered Ozzy’s public image to that of sort of a real-life British Ward Cleaver.
Some metal fans that miss the “old” Ozzy might then be a bit concerned about him calling his new album Ordinary Man. However, song titles like “Straight to Hell”, “Under the Graveyard” and “Holy for Tonight” should exorcise any concern over whether we’re still dealing with the same hard rock version of Ozzy that’s had us headbanging since the Sabbath days. The opening guitar riff on “Straight to Hell” – courtesy of longtime Guns N’ Roses axeman Slash – will then solidify this. The song is a bit formulaic, but it’s the formula that Ozzy’s legions of fans can’t wait to swallow and then come back for seconds.
Another Guns N’ Roses member, Duff McKagen, also appears on the album, playing bass on most of the tracks. That band clearly took quite a bit of influence from Ozzy, certainly in terms of the fact that even when rocking unmistakably hard, Ozzy has never (or very rarely) skimped on melody or hooks. On the new track “Today is the Day” for example, the song starts with a slow arpeggio verse before switching over to an ultra-catchy borderline emo chorus reminiscent of Treble Charger’s underrated song “Brand New Low.”
On that tip, Ozzy has never made any pretenses about the Beatles being his own all-time biggest influence, which can be heard clearly on a number of his classic songs (“Crazy Train”, “Lighting Strikes”), and possibly comes out more than ever on several tracks from Ordinary Man, including “Holy for Tonight”, a mid-tempo which features very Beatlesque harmonizing backing vocals. The very title “All My Life” also clearly screams the Fab Four and does feature that sound, although the song’s soft-then-loud-then-back structure also suggests Nirvana (another band greatly influenced by the Beatles) and similar early Nineties alternative rock.
While Ozzy has never collaborated with any of the Beatles, he comes as close as he ever has – and probably ever will – on the title track, a midtempo duet with Elton John (who worked with John Lennon and arguably picked up where the Beatles left off at the beginning of the Seventies). The song (which John co-wrote and plays piano on) is, accordingly probably Ozzy’s ultimate tribute to the Beatles, and the pairing with John sees to also have gotten a positive response from Ozzy’s fans.
Teaming up on the album with Post Malone and Travis Scott, though, might be tougher sells: Malone sings on “It’s a Raid”, a likeable cut which sounds like the Monkees on steroids. On the Scott collaboration “Take What You Want” the younger artist clearly dominates, with Ozzy essentially just singing the “hook” (this might be the reason the song is being presented as a “bonus track”). Still, all of this speaks to Ozzy’s genuine desire to still expand his musical horizons after fifty years. Only an artist who’s truly extraordinary could get away with calling an album Ordinary Man, and that’s certainly (bring back the echo and deep voice): “Ooooooooozzzzzzzyyyyyyyy.”