OZZY OSBOURNE – Ordinary Man (2020 Epic Japanese import)
Expectations were low at LeBrain HQ for a new album by Ozzy Osbourne. In that regard, Ozzy delivered. Ordinary Man is an ordinary album. It is Hard Rock 2020 distilled down to 50 minutes. Nothing on this album comes close to challenging anything from the first six Ozzy albums. It’s most comparable to 2001’s Down to Earth, an overly-modern affair put together by suits.
This time out, the suits assembled a band consisting of Duff McKagan (GN’R) on bass, Chad Smith (RHCP) on drums, and Andrew Watt (California Breed) on guitar. These guys, plus a smattering of strangers, are responsible for the songwriting. The melodies are very deliberate and calculated rather than natural sounding. While things with Zakk Wylde were getting stale, at least Zakk tried to keep Ozzy on track. I’m not sure Ozzy is on track here. “I’ll make you scream, I’ll make you defecate.” Who wrote that?
The glossy production covers up some pretty stellar playing. Watt is fantastic when soloing, but sounds a bit like he’s trying to ape the Zakk vibe. In the vocals department, you can hear some telltale signs of autotune, which I guess is OK now in 2020. If Paul Stanley can lipsynch live and get away with it, then Ozzy can autotune his albums. I suppose.
Some of the better tracks include the ballads, and the surprising “Scary Little Green Men”. This one features some awesome lickity-licks from Tom Morello. Slash appears elsewhere, not sounding at all like Slash. The single “Under the Graveyard” is not bad. The worst track has to be “It’s a Raid”, possibly an outtake from Blink 182’s Neighborhoods CD.
Elton John sings on one track, and it’s not bad at all, sounding like a classic Ozzy ballad from the 1990s. I didn’t recognise Reginald Dwight’s voice at first. It’s deeper these days. Regarding Post Malone, he’s fine, has a decent voice albeit also autotuned. I don’t know what the guy sounds like without enhancement, but he sounds like he’s probably a better singer than Ozzy recently. I could do without his song “Take What You Want”, but at least the Japanese edition of the album ends on a better note. A blues track called “Darkside Blues” is brief, but actually sounds like something more real, more genuine.
Think about your favourite Ozzy albums. How often to do you spin Blizzard, Diary, or Tears? Now think about how often you play Down to Earth, Black Rain, and Scream. In two years’ time, you’ll be spinning Ordinary Man about as often as Black Rain, but you won’t be getting Wylde.
The brightest always burn out the quickest. Audioslave lasted a mere five years but unleashed three albums in the same time most bands can only crank out one or two. It was a collaboration that bore sweet fruit. Ronnie James Dio used to say that when it came to collaborations, the first album was usually the best. That’s true of Audioslave.
Their first, self-titled album checks all the boxes: monster grooves, soaring vocals and wonky solos. Since it’s produced by Rick Rubin you know it’s gonna be loud. You can also count on a clear, big drum sound which Rubin achieves. At 14 tracks, the album is swollen, but despite its long runtime there is nary a dud.
There are some who, at the time at least, felt that Rage Against The Machine’s style of abnormally funky rap-metal could not be adapted to hard rock. They felt the fit between Chris Cornell and the Rage guys was forced and resulted in something that would only appeal to Soundgarden’s fans while alienating those of Rage. While there is a smidgen of truth to that assertion, Rage have proven time and again that they can pretty much do anything. No boundaries.
No tracks to skip, either, but some you may want to focus extra attention on. “Cochise” about the revered Indian warrior, has a groove that can crack concrete. Same with “Show Me How to Live” and “Gasoline”, heavier than the proverbial lead balloon, but infested with melodic vocals. Audioslave could even pull off slower material, though you’d be hesitant to call them “ballads”. “Like A Stone” is essential: precision, smoky rock crooning. The spare arrangement allows Chris’ vocals to make the impact, though the bass is certainly earth-moving. As if that wasn’t enough, Tom Morello’s solo combines his trademark noisy note-work with epic composition.
Despite the quality tracks before and after, the best may be the angry “Set It Off”. It slams. It’s closest to Rage’s anarchist tendencies. It’s just pissed off.
He was standing at the rock, Gathering the flock, And getting there with no directions, And underneath the arch, It turned into a march, And there he found the spark to set this fucker off.
A 14 track album this good could earn a 2000 word analysis, but we’ll save that for an inevitable deluxe edition. There are lots of B-sides and bonus tracks from this album that need to be properly collected into a set, like the download-only “Give”, a rhythmic little extra. Suffice to say, Audioslave is an essential album for anybody who ever liked rock music. There is a purity to it. As the liner notes say, “all sounds made by guitar, bass, drums, and vocals.” Even the weird squonky shit, so be ready for your mind and soul to be blown. Sit back and absorb it a while, because there’s a lot here to assimilate into your blood.
When reports surfaced that Kiss were in the studio working on a song with country star Garth Brooks, some assumed this was to be a bonus track for the forthcoming Kiss Alive III. Little did we realize that Kiss were actually working on their own tribute album.
In the early 1990s, tribute albums were all the rage. Common Thread: the Songs of the Eagles. Stone Free: a Tribute to Jimi Hendrix. Out of the Blue and Borrowed Tunes: tributes to Neil Young. There were many more, and Kiss were not on the trailing edge of this trend. They beat Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin to the market.
Kiss My Ass was the clever title, but it was not the first. 1990’s Hard to Believe: A Kiss Covers Compilation featured soon-to-be-famous bands like Melvins and Nirvana. The ever-enterprising Kiss decided to corner the market with their own official tribute to themselves.
To toot their own horn, Kiss included a list of not only the musicians who appeared on Kiss My Ass, but even the ones that didn’t. Nirvana is on the list. According to the Melvins though, the truth is that they only dropped Kurt’s name as a guest on their track, because Gene didn’t seem too interested otherwise. Nine Inch Nails were going to do “Love Gun”. Both Ugly Kid Joe and Megadeth wanted to tackle “Detroit Rock City”. It’s hard to imagine what songs Run D.M.C. and Bell Biv Devoe were supposed to record, or Tears for Fears for that matter. Take this list with a grain of salt!
Kiss My Ass (or A** if you bought it from Walmart) is a weird album. It’s scattershot and not immediately likeable. It collected 11 (12 if you include the bonus track) covers by a diverse assortment of 90s artists. The cover art sucks and lacks the Kiss logo and Ace’s real makeup (which Kiss did not have the rights to in 1994). The only cool gimmick the cover had was the background flag was unique to the country of release. A Kiss album with a Canadian flag is neat to own.
The album hits the ground running with some 70s cred, as Lenny Kravitz and Stevie Wonder do “Deuce”. Lenny funks it up while Stevie brings the harmonica. This is an example of a simply terrific cover. The artists put their own spin on it, changing its style but not its drive.
“Hard Luck Woman” was already up Garth Brooks’ alley. His version doesn’t stray from the Kiss original, and even features Kiss (uncredited) as his backing band! That makes it an official Kiss recording, just with a guest singer of sorts. Arguably the biggest country singer of all time, and a closet Kiss fan. The Garth Brooks track threw a lot of people for a loop, though it’s an easy song to digest.
Kiss only participated in two songs: the Garth track, and Anthrax’s “She”. Anthrax insisted that Paul and Gene produce it, and they did a great job of it. Anthrax are brilliant at doing covers anyway. John Bush-era Anthrax was truly something special, and “She” slams hard. Heavy Kiss songs made heavier are such a delight.
The Gin Blossoms turned in a very mainstream, very mid-90s version of “Christine Sixteen”. It kicks about as hard as the original, but something about it is very tame. After all, singer Robin Wilson is not Gene Simmons (which is probably a good thing), and guitarist Scotty Johnson is not Ace Frehley. Far worse through is Toad the Wet Sprocket’s soggy “Rock and Roll all Nite”, a buzzkilling country fart. “Calling Dr. Love” by Shandi’s Addiction (a collection of assorted big names) is also a hard pill to swallow. This quartet consists of (are you ready for it?): Maynard James Keenan – lead vocals. Tom Morello & Brad Wilk – guitar and drums. Billy Gould – bass. So, it’s Rage Against the Machine with the singer from Tool and a bass rumble right out of Faith No More. And the track is just as schizophrenic as you’d expect. It’s both brilliant and annoying as fuck.
J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. used his unique vision on “Goin’ Blind”, turning Gene’s murky song into something even darker. Then bright shimmers of a string section break through the clouds, shadowing everything dramatically. It’s a brilliant track. Much like Kravitz, J. Mascis took the song and changed the style but not direction. You could say the same for Extreme who do a brilliant spin on “Strutter”. Though by 1994 Extreme were well over in the public eye, they continued to push their own boundaries. “Strutter” became something slower and funkier, with Nuno Bettencourt slipping all over the fretboard and Gary Cherone pouring it all on. This is primo Punchline-era Extreme (Paul Geary still on drums). And listen for a segue into “Shout it Out Loud”!
The Lemonheads chose “Plaster Caster” from Love Gun, a sloppy garage rock version, and score a passing grade. It’s an admirable effort, but they are quickly overshadowed by their fellow Bostonians, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. The Bosstones had the balls to open their track with a phone message from Gene Simmons advising them to pick another song. “Dicky, about Detroit Rock City…” Ugly Kid Joe had dibs. Any other song would be fine…and then WHAM! The opening chords to “Detroit Rock City”. Gene was gracious enough to appear in the video. Their disciplined ska-punk horn ensemble lays waste to the town. Dicky Barrett’s gravelly throat is like a sniper taking out anyone left standing. The Bosstones win the whole CD, hands down. There is little doubt that Dicky Barrett would have shaken unfortunate Kiss fans unfamiliar with the Bosstones. Today it’s clear that they stole the show with their mighty, mighty cover.
The closest match to the Bosstones in terms of excellence, is a polar opposite. It’s Yoshiki (from X-Japan) and his orchestra version of “Black Diamond”. This is performed instrumentally with piano in the starring role. In this form, “Black Diamond” would make a brilliant movie theme. Yoshiki closes the album in style, unless you choose to go further and get the LP. Proceed with caution.
The vinyl bonus track by Die Ärzte is the only non-makeup Kiss track included: “Unholy”. This is a garbage version (in German no less) that you don’t need to spend your money finding. It’s only interesting when it briefly transitions into “I Was Made For Loving You”. Want a good version of “Unholy”? Check out the 2013 tribute A World With Heroes.
By 1994, Kiss needed a boost. Grunge was omnipresent and Kiss looked silly and outdated, even with their beards and scruffier appearance. Kiss My Ass was clearly a transparent attempt to try and latch onto some fans of the newer breed. Maybe some Lenny Kravitz fans would like it. If a few Garth Brooks followers bought a copy too, then bonus! But Garth Brooks fans didn’t buy the album, turned off by the cover art and tracklist. Likewise, fans of Lenny Kravitz, Tool and Rage Against the Machine didn’t run out en-masse either.
Fortunately Kiss had plenty of cards left in their deck. There was a Kiss My Ass spinoff video, a tour, and a coffee table book all in the works. This seemed to distract from the oft-rumoured next Kiss studio album. More next time.
And the award for most embarrassing goes to…Puff Daddy!
The year: 1998
The place: My store
The guilty party: Me
Remember that shitty 1998 movie, Godzilla? It’s OK if you didn’t. There are movie executives and Matthew Brodericks worldwide that want to forget it, too.
The soundtrack was OK though. “A320” is a non-album Foo Fighters track, and one of the first to feature Taylor Hawkins on drums. “No Shelter” is a rare Rage Against The Machine track. Ben Folds Five and Green Day contributed. I’m sure most of these bands would rather forget the movie itself.
The lead single, though, was a song called “Come With Me”, by Puff Daddy. You may remember this one, a remake of “Kashmir” but with ol’ Puffy himself providing new, enlightened lyrics.
You said to trust you, you’d never hurt me
Now, I’m disgusted, since then adjusted
Certainly, you fooled me, ridiculed me
Left me hangin’, now shit’s boomerangin’
Anyway. The song features Jimmy Page and Tom Morello too, which is really too bad, because that put it in my obsessive-compulsive collector’s sights.
Then I saw the CD single come in
Morello Mix (cool, right? basically, more guitar squonk)
Radio album version (?)
Live version (???)
Live version? Yeah. Although I’m sad to say that Jimmy Page performed live with Puffy more than once, this one is from Saturday Night Live. I don’t know who the drummer was, but he ain’t no Bonham (John or Jason), that much is clear. Jimmy Page does play on it, but I really hate when mid-song, Puffy proclaims, “I think I wanna dance!”
I don’t remember what I paid for this single, probably $3 with my discount. Forgivable? I hope you think so. But I have a lot of ‘splaining to do any time somebody sees it in my collection.
Then another different single showed up! It has two more tracks:
Extended radio edit
Radio versi0n II
Don’t ask me the difference except the swear words are replaced by Godzilla roaring on the radio versions. I ended up getting this one for free. I turned down the guy who was selling it, because it did look like a cheap promo (no booklet, for example, and the crappy track list), but he left it behind. And that’s how I ended up with two copies of a Puff Daddy single.
I like my CD collection to be displayed for all to see. I’m (mostly) proud of it. I ain’t so proud of this, even with the presence of Page and Morello. It’s always hard to explain and justify to guests, who never fail to notice it.
Therefore, the award for most embarrassing CD of all time goes to ME, for “Come With Me”, by Puff Daddy, not one version but two!