Did anyone really see this one coming? It’s been a good ten years since the double-O last provided us with new solo music and even though he has been touring and releasing an album with Black Sabbath, the news of a new solo album came as a surprise. From nothing to bam, a new single was out and around the same time it stood clear that a new record was ready for release. Usually when a huge artist like the Ozzman enters the studio, the news are all over the internet in no-time, but with this record it was single out and the album’s due any day now. I dunno about you but I was highly surprised when those news were out. The questions were many. Who wrote all those songs and when were they written? Who plays on the album? Was everything ready and done when Ozzy walked into the studio to record his vocals? And the biggest question of all, would this be anything to write home about?

Now it’s hard to slag any of Ozzy’s solo stuff – Down To Earth (2001) is the only album of his I’d consider bad per se – but in reality, when was the last time Ozzy released a real killer album. For me it was Ozzmosis (1995). I love that album. I’m not gonna say that neither Black Rain (2007) or Scream (2010) were bad albums but in all honesty, they hasn’t exactly stood up as classic Ozzy records. Good but not lasting. So, I can honestly say that my expectations on the new album wasn’t either high or low beforehand. For the new record, Andrew Watt, mostly known to us rockers for his contributions to Glenn Hughes’ underrated California Breed album and band, was brought in as both guitarist, song writer and producer with Duff McKagan (Guns N’ Roses) and Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Chickenfoot) as the rhythm section and a whole lot of celebrity guests. Why Ozzy feel the need to use big names instead of his touring band is anybody’s guess. I’m sure the sales would have been the same either way.

When the album’s leading single ”Under The Graveyard” was released, as a rocker it was impossible to miss as it was all over rock-radio day and night – and what was even better, it brought a whole great deal of hope for the album’s outcome. The song is phenomenal, see. With verses on the dark balladry side that makes me think of the Ozzmosis days, the melancholy and creepy underlying darkness plus the classic Ozzy melody-line makes this the Ozzy at least I know and love. The song keeps its darkness but gets both punchier and heavier when the chorus shows up and it’s hard not to be impressed by a chorus that’s so catchy it sticks by first listen without going all radio-pop on us one bit. To me, this is as classic Ozzy as it gets. This tune sure beats everything the double O has released since 1995. Fact is, it wouldn’t feel out of place on an album like Ozzmosis.

All of a sudden, expectations on the new record rose and after hearing second single and the album’s opener ”Straight To Hell”, expectations kept rising. It’s a heavy, dark and aggressive tune, very much in the vein that you can expect from a classic Ozzy tune. Over a fat and heavy, classic Ozzy guitar riff, the Ozzman takes us back to the days of ”Sweet Leaf” with Oz shouting ”Allright now!”, as to let us know where he’s going with the track. To me, this is a classic Ozzy as it gets with classic Ozzy vocal melodies and a hard-striking refrain. Slash plays the guitar solo here and that’s the only non-impressive thing about this tune. Slash should be able to better than this. ”All My Life” comes on with a softer touch, again not a far cry from the ballady things on Ozzmosis. However, the song heavies up with chunky, metalized groove and an upbeat yet quite pop-laden – the Ozzy way, of course – chorus. It’s a Hard Rock ballad for sure but with an attached heaviness. It all sounds very, very Ozzy to these ears. And it’s damn good.

”Goodbye” starts out slow, heavy and dark – and again, producer Watt seem to have made it his mission to make this album sound like classic Ozzy sounding record because everything from melodies to the rhythm to the actual music sounds just like Ozzy should. There’s a sinister outlook lying all over this tune and when it speeds up to a faster pace on a rowdy note, Ozzy and his cohorts sends a clear nod towards his days in Black Sabbath. The addition of cellos and violins only adds to the eerie sound of the song. Killer tune. One of the most talked about songs here is the album’s third single and title-track, much because of the fact that Elton John is guesting on vocals and piano. And yes, it’s a fantastic tune. Slower in pace yet quite not a ballad as such, the song is heavily Beatles influenced, orchestrated with an underlying melancholy yet with extremely memorable melodies and a brilliantly intriguing chorus that sticks right away. Slash plays the solo on this one as well and again, he can do better. ”I don’t wanna die an ordinary man”, sings Ozzy. No, Oz, that will never happen…

Got the urge for some Sabbath? Well, look no further than ”Eat Me” – it really doesn’t get more Sabbath than that. The tune starts out with a harmonica ”The Wizard” style and some bluesier, heavy grooves before the tune takes on a Metal groove – heavy, aggressive and robust. It’s a cracking tune with a raw and earthy rhythm section, fat and edgy guitars and Ozzy’s menacing voice on top. The chorus is striking and in-your-face – to me this is as classic Ozzy as it gets. Brilliant. With a darkening and eerie atmosphere and heavy, Tony Iommi like guitars, ”Today Is The End” starts out a belter where the the whole soundscape goes into a No More Tears (1991) meets Ozzmosis structure. The chorus takes on a more pop-metal like direction with some Beatles-esque melodies on top. The solo part is filled with heavy riffing and a gut-busting rhythm section doing its best to beat you up. I love this.

”Scary Little Green Men” comes with slow-paced verses, laid-back and sinister sounding, very much classic Ozzy while the pre-chorus and chorus takes on a more modern sounding Metal style – melodic, bouncy, kicking and quite in-your-face catchy. While the verses are impeccable, even really good, the chorus isn’t what I look for in a Ozzy track. Besides it feels strained and unnatural. The first song that doesn’t really hold up. Tom Morello (Rage Against The Machine, Audioslave) plays the guitar solo but it passes by kinda unnoticed. That said, I have always thought that Morello is a bit overrated. ”Holy For Tonight” is a pop-ballad with more Beatles-esque melodies and arrangements, big on orchestration and a grandiose soundscape. It’s a sombre, quite 70’s sounding song with an infectious main melody and a smooth yet melancholic chorus impossible to resist. It might not sound like a classic Ozzy-ballad but it’s a damn fine tune.

”It’s A Raid” features one Post Malone. Post who? Before I listened to this album I had no clue who Post Malone is? I’m still not sure I know who he is but apparently he’s a pop-dance-hip hop-R&B artist of some kind and the reason he’s guesting here is that Watt is also his producer. The song is a fast-tracked, rowdy garage-punk-metal track with lots of distorted bass. It’s noisy, kicking and in-your face and it’s not until the song slows down and heavies up it starts to sound at least a little like an Ozzy tune. It’s ok but also kind of forgettable. Post Malone? I hardly noticed his input. Morello guests on guitar on this one too. As a closer we get ”Take What You Want”, a Post Malone song that has Ozzy and rapper Travis Scott guesting. That’s right, it’s not even an Ozzy track. No matter what you think of this modern, pop-dance track, auto-tuned to its teeth, built on synthesizers and drum-machines, it doesn’t belong on the album. In all honesty, it’s a bonus track for CDs, i-Tunes and vinyl but it still has no place on this record. Why? because it’s a Post Malone song, simple as that. What do I think of it? I think it sucks ass and takes away at least one point from the album’s final score.

As a whole, this album is surprisingly good – it’s actually damn good and yes, it’s easily Ozzy’s finest effort since Ozzmosis. But there are flaws – and some questions to be asked. Why didn’t he use his touring band? Zakk Wylde, Tommy Clufetos, Blasko and Adam Wakeman aren’t exactly second division musicians. So McKagan, Smith and Watt has writing credits all over this album and sure, they did a great job in that department, but why did they (Watt?) feel the need of big names for this album when Ozzy already has a great band? One can only speculate on that. The production also leaves a bit too much to be desired. It sounds very produced – compressed and not very alive plus the use of auto-tune is a bit overmuch. And I still can’t get over the Post Malone thing. Luckily enough, great musical performances, great songs and an Ozzy that sounds both vital and fresh – not at all like a man on his last legs – makes this record a winner despite the flaws. If this is Ozzy’s swan-song then he can say goodbye with his head held high.


// Jompa

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