It’s very easy to be cynical about any new Ozzy album since about Down To Earth and onwards. Corporate constructions. Special guest writers and performers. “Here Ozzy, sing these new songs we wrote for you.” Prior to that, it felt like Ozzy had a band, and that band took different directions on each album. Now Ozzy has Andrew Watt and a slate of big-namers. It’s been this way a while. This time the difference is, the process resulted in a pretty decent album. Sure it’s still Watt at the helm, with special guests in big letters on the back cover and front stick. Jeff Beck! Eric Clapton! Tony Iommi! Zakk Wylde! Of course without a real band, you don’t get that cohesive band sound, but what you do get ain’t bad indeed.
Each track (except for “Darkside Blues” which is either a new version or a new mix of the Japanese bonus track from Ordinary Man) has credits by Andrew Watt and professional songsmith Ali Tamposi. She’s more known for Kelly Clarkson, Nickelback, and a slew of Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus hits. She also co-wrote most of Ordinary Man so there’s a formula at work here. Other co-writers include Ryan Tedder, Duff McKagan, Chad Smith, Robert Trujillo, Tony Iommi, Chris Chaney, and the late great Taylor Hawkins.
Ozzy falls into his comic horror persona a bit too much. There was once a time when he was trying to shed that “crazy madman” image but he’s really leaned into it again for the last couple decades. As such the album opens with silly “insane asylum” sound effects that only delay us getting to the good stuff. The opening title track is over seven minutes long with that nonsense attached. It’s also one of the poorer of the new songs, overly formulaic and modern with robotic hooks. Jeff Beck’s unconventional and slippery solo work makes it worth a listen (Watt and Wylde play the rhythm and fills).
Things really get moving on track two, “Immortal” featuring Mike McCready of Pearl Jam and Duff on bass. Good riffing and grooving going on here, and the first memorable chorus. The Hawkins co-penned “Parasite” is another grooving highlight, featuring the Foo Fighter on drums. The chorus is really solid and just moves like a ‘Vette on the highway. That’s Zakk on lead guitar, but he’s instantly recognizable. Former Ozzy bassist and currently Metallicer Rob Trujillo on bass.
What’s really amazing is that with the help of Tony Iommi, this hodge-podge of creators managed to write a seriously Sabbathy dirge called “No Escape From Now”. You’d swear it’s Geezer Butler on bass, but it’s not. It’s actually Watt. It’s as Sabbathy, if not more so, than most of the 13 album. It feels a bit “token”, like, “Oh hey Sabbath fans, here’s a song with the riffs and time changes that you like.” Yet it’s one of the songs you’ll keep returning to, and probably for those reasons. Of note, this is the only song without Andrew Watt on rhythm guitar. It’s all Tony and only Tony which is the reason it feels heavy as a bloody brick.
In a throwback to Ozzmosis, “One of Those Days” with Eric Clapton really sounds a bit like “I Just Want You”. Clapton really adds a touch of class. One could imagine that the chorus will upset certain people with it’s refrain of “I don’t believe in Jesus”, but it is one hell of a chorus – pun intended. Unfortunately the ballad that follows, “A Thousand Shades”, is a throwaway, aside from the brilliant Jeff Beck guitar solo. One of the Hawkins co-penned tracks called “Mr. Darkness” takes a minute to get going, seemingly a song about fan letters that Ozzy once received. It and the next two songs all feature Zakk Wylde on guitar. Dull verses, but awesome chorus, with an awesome Sabbathy change towards the end. The only dumb part is the silly ending where Ozzy speaks, “You don’t even know my name you asshole.” Just…no.
“Nothing Feels Right” is another ballad, very Ozzmosis-y. Decent song, good chorus, with all the production bells and whistles. It really smokes during the solo section. Another Sabbathy sounding riff emerges on “Evil Shuffle” and it really seems clear that Andrew Watt is trying to channel Geezer Butler’s bass playing on this album. Not that it’s a bad thing. Then it’s the much-hyped “Degradation Rules” with Tony Iommi, a song about masturbation, but not as good as the prior Iommi song. The main hook here is Ozzy’s harmonica playing, a great throwback to “The Wizard”.
“Dead and Gone” is a deep cut highlight, with a latter-day Priest-like groove and lots of Zakk Wylde chunk. An album highlight buried way in the back end. Finally, “God Only Knows” is the last proper song, but unfortunately sort of a last gasp rather than a late highlight. Kind of a ballad, with lush backing vocals, but not a “Road to Nowhere” kind of late album winner.
The outro music, “Darkside Blues”, appears to be a remix of the original version from Ordinary Man‘s Japanese release. You can compare the waveforms below. It’s a swampy track with more of Ozzy’s harmonica, just a coda to the album.
It’s pretty amazing at this stage of the game that Ozzy is still cranking out new music, but of course he has a huge support team behind him. This time, the team produced an album better than the last one by a pretty fair margin. They could have cut two tracks and made it a more engaging and concise listen. It’s always a balancing act between giving the listener added value, or a streamlined experience. A minor quibble at the end of the day.