Photo Credit: Ross Halfin
After choosing several surprising (and potentially polarizing) collaborative partners on his last album, Ordinary Man (Elton John, Post Malone), heavy metal’s ultimate icon Ozzy Osbourne by and large revisits familiar territory on his new full-length release Patient Number 9. This is mainly in regards to the guitarists he’s recruited this time around: undoubtedly most welcome are Tony Iommi, his Black Sabbath partner at both the start and the end of that groundbreaking band’s four-decade run; as well as Zakk Wylde, probably the one axeman (other than the late Randy Rhodes) most closely identified with Ozzy’s solo career.
But Ozzy doesn’t stop there, also recruiting both Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, possibly rock’s two most prolific living guitarists. Clapton, at least, is somewhat Ozzy-adjacent, having been in Cream, who pioneered the rock power trio structure that Sabbath later picked up on. Prior to that, Clapton had been in the Yardbirds, as had Jeff Beck, who also plays on two Patient Number 9 cuts. So wouldn’t all this logically mean that Jimmy Page would be on this album too? He’s not, but luckily longtime Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready is.
Ozzy’s certainly picked out his starting line-up well, so how does the game itself go? Most of Patient Number 9 is classic Ozzy, right down to the artist’s always-refreshing attention to melody and song structure (Ozzy has always acknowledged the Beatles as his main influence). The album is full of classic-style hard rock on songs like “Parasite” and “No Escape from Now” (great title!). A lot feels right about “Nothing Feels Right,” another mid-tempo rocker with a killer hook. The title track, which opens the album, probably didn’t need to be seven-plus-minutes long, but still works. “Evil Shuffle” hints at ’90s grunge yet ironically is not the track that features McCready (that would be “Immortal,” which is also good). All superstar guitarists who appear to deliver the goods as reliably as Amazon.
Ozzy’s work – and his genre as a whole – have never been considered deep or thought-provoking, usually identified with only pure simplified fantasy (if not outright brainlessness). However, one song here lyrically does unquestionably stand out, the single “Dear Mr. Darkness.” “I write to you again // I’ve been so lonely, I needed a friend… // My walls are covered with pictures of you // I fantasize that you are here in my room // Most days I wake up just wanting to die.” While it could be suggested that the title character is meant to be Ozzy himself – and in turn, this is a song about celebrity obsession sung by the actual celebrity, a la Eminem’s “Stan” – the song goes on, ultimately implying the narrator’s impending death, possibly by suicide.
While Ozzy’s lyrics and imagery have always been somewhat dark, this particular track introduces a version of more personal and internal darkness that one might more expect from a band like, say, My Chemical Romance. Whoever or whatever the song’s actual subject might be, the theme is clearly that of an individual who seeks some kind of support from a being or entity who’s simply out of reach. Yet the song ends with a nerdy voice saying angrily: “You don’t even know my name, you asshole!” suggesting that in the end, the narrator is able to fight back on his own (ironically, this is one of three songs on the album which gives a co-writing credit to Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins, who died tragically last March).
“Dead and Gone” is another good one, even if nobody who’s awake could possibly miss the solid similarity for Metallica’s “Until it Sleeps.” “God Only Knows” is not the Beach Boys song but still kinda in the ballpark, as the melody and use of what sounds like an orchestra suggests a tribute to the Beatles. The album closes with “Darkside Blues” an under-two-minutes afterthought which is either a very old – and therefore audibly subpar – recording of a classic blues track or a new recording meant to emulate one (how nice if instead of this, Clapton had stuck around to do a full, proper recording of a classic blues song with Ozzy on vocals?).
As this is in fact Ozzy’s thirteenth solo album, it’s unclear why it’s titled Patient Number 9 (possibly another nod to the Beatles?). Suggesting a person who’s just one of many identified only by an assigned digit, this title, like that of the singer’s last album Ordinary Man, implies that Ozzy isn’t unique and doesn’t stand out. That, of course, can’t be anything but irony, since Ozzy is probably the most identifiable single figure in all of heavy metal. At the same time, Patient Number 9 doesn’t particularly stand out among his solo work or even hard rock in general, but overall it’s more than solid enough to not really have to.