The Prince of Darkness is back with a new record and a cancelled tour, on the heels of the announcement that he is suffering from Parkinson’s disease. ‘Ordinary Man’ is his first album in 10 years, and it’s definitely his best since at the very least 2001’s ‘Down to Earth’, and arguably his best since 1995’s ‘Ozzmosis’. I didn’t expect much from a 71-year old Ozzy, but I was pleasantly surprised. He attempts to update his sound and while it can feel a little disingenuous at times, it works for the most part.
The first half of the album is definitely the strongest section; the real clunkers are all in the back 6 tracks, intersped with decent tracks. But the album lacks a GREAT single. The title track, ‘Straight to Hell’ or ‘Under the Graveyard’ (the video is great) are all really good songs, but wouldn’t have been singles on something like ‘No More Tears’. A look at the credits sheds light on the songwriting, with names like the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Chad Smith, Guns n’ Roses’ Duff McKagan, producer Andrew Wotman and songwriter Alexandra Tamposi, who wrote hits for Justin Bieber and Kelly Clarkson. It’d be easy to blame Tamposi for the unusual musical flourishes, but her name is associated with the best tracks on the album. But don’t expect a lot of Randy Rhoads/Jake E. Lee/Zakk Wylde-style guitar riffing; this is a milder, tamer Ozzy who flirts with pop quite a bit throughout the record.
Having Elton John duet with Ozzy on ‘Ordinary Man’ works well without even the ‘shock’ value of having the two very different singers together. ‘It’s a Raid’ is a duet with Post Malone, and while it is an obvious attempt to modernize Ozzy’s image, it’s pretty good, and one of the few uptempo tracks on the record. And if you wanted more of that, the last track ‘Take What You Want’ is an actual Post Malone track featuring Ozzy and Travis Scott. That one starts well with Ozzy’s intro, then goes sideways when Malone enters. There’s nothing wrong with the song mind you, it’s a decent pop track, but it has no business on Ozzy’s record. This goes way beyond modernizing Ozzy’s sound and just sounds insincere. The album is also peppered with little callbacks to his stage banter and classic sound, and those are probably more interesting for someone not up to date on Ozzy’s body of work. But if that’s your case, your time would be better invested diving into ‘Blizzard of Ozz’, ‘No More Tears’ and Black Sabbath’s ‘Master of Reality’ right now. You’ll thank me later.
The album’s biggest flaw is its lack of a great track or two. The singles aren’t spectacular, but a good chunk of the track list is decent to good. And with Ozzy’s health a concern (but haven’t we been saying this for the last 20 years at least?), I won’t complain that we’re getting new Ozzy songs. Lyrically, Ozzy’s tackling his own mortality and legacy, and it’s easy to see that the singer feels he’s nearing the end of his journey. He did say he wanted to do another one soon, so maybe this isn’t goodbye after all.
‘Ordinary Man’ is a decent update to Ozzy’s sound that could alienate a portion of his older fans, but it shouldn’t. Take it for what it is, and it’s a decent record, and a minor miracle from a man who has no business still being alive.