The first time I “wrote off” Ozzy Osbourne was nearly a quarter of a century ago. To be exact, it was on April 21, 1986 as I was walking out of New Jersey’s Brendan Byrne Arena, after the end of Ozzy’s concert. It was the first time I’d seen him perform; I’d been looking forward to it for years, but as my friend and I moved through the parking lot, we thought maybe we were a few years too late.
It was the tour for The Ultimate Sin: Ozzy didn’t sound great, and he looked worse. The renegade frontman who had blown minds for over a decade as a member of Black Sabbath, and then with his solo albums Blizzard Of Ozz and Diary Of A Madman now seemed to be trying to fit in with pop-metal trends. His show lacked intensity, the keyboards were way too prominent, and he got blown away by the opening act. To be fair, Metallica has always been a tough band to follow and this was especially true in ’86 when Cliff Burton was still walking this earth.
I know that a lot of fans who were at that show felt the same way, and that’s probably true for anyone who attended the other dates on that tour. As thrash metal — not just Metallica, but also Slayer, Anthrax, Suicidal Tendencies, Exodus, Overkill and Megadeth — was on the rise, Ozzy just seemed way out of touch.
But just a few years later, in 1991 a slimmed-down Ozzy with a red-hot band led by guitarist Zakk Wylde unleashed No More Tears, his greatest album since his solo debut: the title track is one of his finest moments (with or without Sabbath) and “Mama, I’m Coming Home” was a ballad that escaped the sappiness of the hair metal slow jams of the previous decade.
Of course, No More Tears wasn’t the first time that Ozzy made a dramatic and surprising comeback: surely, no one thought he would eclipse Black Sabbath’s popularity when he was fired from that band. Some may have doubted that he’d stay relevant following the death of his collaborator, Randy Rhoads.
But nothing ever stopped Ozzy for long; he kept defying the odds for decades. His career had surprise after surprise: he reunited with Black Sabbath (eventually putting out an album that was their first U.S. chart-topper). He started Ozzfest, which not only made Lollapalooza seem obsolete but also became a launchpad for some of the biggest metal bands of the millennium, including Slipknot and System Of A Down.
Did anyone expect Ozzy — and his family — to become household names? The Osbournes turned Ozzy, wife/manager Sharon, and his children, Kelly and Jack, into bona fide celebrities. Could anyone in their right mind possibly have predicted that Ozzy would become an advice columnist for Rolling Stone?
And yet, he always came back, with more albums, more touring, defying the constraints of age. Decades into an unprecedented career, he still works five times harder than he has to. His legacy is set in stone; between the Black Sabbath catalog and his solo albums, he doesn’t need to create any new music. And yet, here he is, releasing his 12th solo album, Ordinary Man. The title track — a duet with Elton John, of all people — sees both guys looking back on their careers (coincidentally, they’re both on extended “farewell” tours that have been rescheduled due to various health issues). In the song, Ozzy confesses “[I] Don’t know why I’m still alive,” while Elton laments, “I don’t wanna say goodbye.” It’s a standout song in Ozzy’s discography, one that holds up to his classic ballads like “Mama, I’m Coming Home” and “I Just Want You.”
Producer Andrew Watt, who Ozzy met when he guested on Post Malone’s Watt-produced “Take What You Want,” also produced Ordinary Man. He enlisted the help of Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith (Watt himself played guitar). Besides the title track, “Under The Graveyard” is a great, Sabbathy anthem, and “It’s A Raid,” is one of the thrashiest things Oz has ever done. And yeah, the latter track it’s Ozzy’s second collaboration with Post Malone, which may be off-putting to some fans. But the rapper has, at the very least, introduced Ozzy to a new audience. And he also introduced him to a producer who helped to craft an album that will likely be his last one, and from the early tracks, it’s a respectable one. It’s certainly a better final effort than 2010’s Scream.
When Ozzy wrapped up his “No More Tours” tour with a pair of shows at the Pacific Amphitheater in Costa Mesa, California in November of 1992, no one really believed that it would be the end. On the other hand, he was in his 40s, which seemed insane for a heavy metal singer. But Ozzy Osbourne has been defying our expectations and defying logic ever since. The future for Ozzy is unsure at best, especially since he went public with his Parkinson’s disease diagnosis. His upcoming medical treatment in Switzerland has led to the postponement of the North American leg of his “No More Tours 2” tour, but here’s hoping that he can do at least one last show where he can take his final bow. He’s more than earned it.
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