A choral lament echoes eerily through the darkness. A single, serpentine guitar riff enters, paving the way for what's to come. Then you hear it, three words so elemental that you are immediately on board for whatever the next 50 minutes might bring - “ALL RIGHT NOW!”
With this immortal line, delivered in almost identical fashion to the opening of Black Sabbath's masterpiece 'Master of Reality', Ozzy Osborne reminds the world just how a petty crook from Birmingham with no discernible skills went on to become metal's only true household name.
You know who Ozzy Osbourne is, your mum knows Ozzy Osbourne is, your ignorant 13 year old cousin who has never knowingly listened to an album in full knows who Ozzy Osbourne is (thanks Post Malone), the barely-conscious foetus incubating in your friend's womb knows who Ozzy Osbourne is. Ozzy is the Brummie Snoop Dogg: a cultural cypher whose cartoonish image has been so expertly cultivated that his larger than life personality threatens to eclipse his musical legacy.
OK, so nothing could blot out the classic six albums he made with Sabbath. But there is certainly a sense that Ozzy's solo career, consisting of a full 11 studio albums, each worse than the one that preceded it, had become something of a joke by the time he reached 2010's geriatric 'Scream' (which would have made for less of a swansong and more of a lame toad's last croak).
When it was announced in late 2019 that Ozzy had recorded a new LP on the fly with Post Malone's producer over the weeks following 'Take What You Want', their sort-of-embarrassing-but-sort-of-OK collab with Travis Scott, reactions ranged from the baffled to the disparaging. Even when it was announced that Ozzy and guitarist/producer/LA wunderkind Andrew Watts would be joined by Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers on drums and Guns N' Roses Duff McKagan on bass, few but his most diehard fans could muster much enthusiasm. But then Ozzy and his wife-cum-manager Sharon Osbourne announced on Good Morning America that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. People suddenly remembered that this here is a mortal man, not a cartoon character, and the frostiness towards the prospect of one more Ozzy album thawed.
The sense of an aging demigod confronting his newfound mortality runs throughout 'Ordinary Man', from 'Under The Graveyard's diatribe against his ailing physical condition (“Don't take care of me, be scared of me”) to 'Holy For Tonight's pontification on his own legacy (“I know I'm someone that they won't remember”). While this may well be his 'Blackstar', Ozzy is no Bowie. It's a wise decision, then, that the 'Clown Prince of Darkness' remembers to alleviate the encroaching darkness wherever he can with humour and high camp. “Is it teatime yet? Do they sell tea in heaven?” he mugs at the end of blistering desert rock banger 'Goodbye', neatly undercutting the seriousness of the song's subject matter and setting the tone for the title track to follow.
The song 'Ordinary Man' is a perfect microcosm for this record's remarkable balancing act. It's a tragicomic work of genius, a cheesy, laughable, over the top power ballad featuring fellow ex-addicts and larger than life rock icons Elton John and Slash that has the listener in tears by its final chorus. While it's not quite 'The Show Must Go On', it still feels like a fitting farewell from a man with a legendary penchant for excess.
Ozzy's morbidity is neatly counterbalanced by the vitality of his backing band. Watts, Smith and McKagan evidently had a whale of a time laying down their material, and heftier numbers like 'Straight To Hell', 'All My Life' and 'It's A Raid' are buoyed by sense of enthusiasm sorely lacking from Black Sabbath's last plodding farewell '13'. This in turn boosts Ozzy's normally stagnant delivery, so even weaker songs like 'Eat Me' and 'Today Is The End' sound inflamed and infectious.
'Ordinary Man' is far from perfect, but all Ozzy Osbourne's solo releases tend to reflect their creator's flaws to one degree or another. It does, however, absolutely succeed on its own terms, serving its purpose by reminding the world just what we'll miss when this titan among titans finally departs us for good. It's silly, it's sad, it's an eternally clumsy man bowing out with as much grace as he could ever muster. Enjoy your retirement Ozzy, we stan an extraordinary man.
Words: Josh Gray
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