‘I’ll never die, because I’m immortal,” sings Ozzy Osbourne on the second track of his 13th solo album. It’s not the last time Patient Number 9 mentions cheating death: “I’m coming out of my grave … you’re going to see my face,” he sings on No Escape from Now, while One of Those Days has him “killing myself – but I never die”. You could say all this seems par for the course, more of the supernatural hokum that has been part of the Ozzy Osbourne brand since Black Sabbath first appeared. There’s a lot of said hokum here, albeit with its tongue more obviously lodged in its cheek than it was 50 odd years ago: Patient Number 9 is an album that comes decorated with pantomime villain cackles, grown men’s voices crying “Mummy! Mummy!” in fear and what sounds like the bad guy in a campy horror flick shouting, “Somebody stop me!” A song that mentions decomposition, meanwhile, concludes with the words, “I loike worms,” in a thick Brummie accent.
You can understand why Osbourne might be preoccupied with cheating death or rising from the grave in 2022. It’s not just that he has been plagued by health problems in recent years – Parkinson’s disease and surgeries after a fall at home and to combat nerve pain among them – it’s that every project Osbourne has involved himself in recently has had an air of finality about it. A farewell tour, a reunion album with Black Sabbath motivated by concluding his career with the band “in the right way”, a subsequent Sabbath tour called The End: even Osbourne’s last solo album, 2020’s Ordinary Man, was reviewed as if it was his last. But here he is, two years on and reunited with Ordinary Man producer Andrew Watt, who’s audibly a fan and thoroughly enjoying himself, slathering on the Planet Caravan-esque vocal effects during No Escape from Now and getting Eric Clapton to play on One of Those Days in a wah-pedal heavy style that’s, thrillingly, closer to his work with Cream than his solo oeuvre.
Clapton is part of an all-star supporting cast: Tony Iommi, Jeff Beck, Osbourne’s longstanding guitarist Zakk Wylde, Josh Homme, Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready, and the late Taylor Hawkins. The sound of the album, meanwhile, manages to be current – there’s a daringly glaring use of Auto-Tune here and there – while flicking skilfully between Sabbath-esque sludge, the glossier pop-metal of Osbourne’s 80s albums Bark at the Moon and The Ultimate Sin and the odd intriguing detour, most notably the string-laden A Thousand Shades, which delves into Osbourne’s lifelong Beatles fandom. The songs are tightly written even when their structure tends to the episodic or their tempos shift gear. They’re also finely balanced, the choruses big and bold enough to attract attention but not overshadow the main attraction’s essential essence. Osbourne’s bleakly desperate wail is front and centre, his lyrical preoccupations intact: as well as the occult, there’s a lot about mental illness – “They tell you you’re insane, do you believe their lies?”– and a light sprinkling of War Pigs-y stuff about the futility of conflict and the evil of those in power: “a circus of madmen running the show”, “destruction never leads to change”. Occasionally, you wonder if the lyrics might not be rooted in Osbourne’s medical travails: it doesn’t seem beyond the realms of possibility that Evil Shuffle’s “madman living inside me” that “won’t let me go” is inspired by his experience of Parkinson’s.
And occasionally the lyrics boggle the mind, which brings us to Degradation Rules, musically the album’s highlight: it features Iommi and, like Damaged Soul from Black Sabbath’s final album 13, peers past that band’s “godfathers of metal” tag to their roots as a kind of warped, heavy blues-rock band. It’s also a song on which Osbourne counsels his listeners against the dangers of excessive wanking. When he starts wailing about “masturbating fools” you initially think it’s a metaphor, perhaps for self-interested politicians – maybe the masturbating fools are in league with the circus of madmen running the show – but no: he’s literally talking about people who can’t stop masturbating. “The hand that feeds you also turns you blind,” he warns. Not that old chestnut.
By way of contrast, Patient Number 9 draws to a close with God Only Knows, a beautiful stadium rock ballad that features Osbourne contemplating his own mortality in terms that are alternately starkly affecting – “I don’t know if I’ll make it, but I’m giving up control” – and theatrical: “It’s better to burn in hell than fade away,” he sings, a perfectly Ozzy-esque retooling of the old Neil Young lyric that ended up part of Kurt Cobain’s suicide note. It’s tempting to say it sounds like an elegiac farewell, and that the album it concludes would be a fine way to say goodbye. But then again, we’ve been there before with Osbourne, several times.
This week Alexis listened to
Maha – Orkos
The latest fruits of the Habibi Funk label’s relentless crate digging in north Africa and the Middle East: writhingly funky, high-camp disco from late 70s Egypt.