The amalgamation of a bedazzled black cane, bowler hat and purple-tinted, rounded lenses can only mean one thing: Ozzy Osbourne is sitting in front of you. At SiriusXM’s new West Hollywood studio space, a selection of Sirius subscribers and Osbourne fan club members fill a short cascade of bleachers for an intimate playback of Ordinary Man, Osbourne’s new album and first in a decade set for release on February 21st.
Radio personality Jose Mangin makes it clear that “we are gathered here today to honor our lord and savior” on the 50th anniversary of Black Sabbath’s first album, which was released on February 13th, 1970. As attendees later find out, Osbourne is also celebrating seven years of clean-living sobriety, which he calls “fucking boring,” even though he’s thrilled to still be alive. If only there were pews, then it would really feel like church.
As funny as it is to see genuine metalheads placed in the always-awkward situation that is the music industry-hosted album listening event – a situation that doesn’t exactly give room for moshing, flailing or headbanging – the evocative music is the focus of the afternoon.
Billy Idol guitarist Billy Morrison functioned as the quasi-moderator between Osbourne, Andrew Watt, who plays guitar on the album and helmed the project, and the disembodied voice of Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan, who also lent his talents to the project and appears via speakerphone for the hour-long chat. Here are seven takeaways from the gathering, which was taped as a special to air on the Ozzy’s Boneyard channel on February 20th.
1. Ozzy Osbourne is definitely not living in denial.
Ordinary Man is an emotional album that, on first listen, feels reminiscent of David Bowie’s Blackstar project. It sounds like he’s saying goodbye. On the aptly titled “Goodbye,” Osbourne sings “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I gave my life a try. Forgive me, I didn’t say goodbye.” He also ends the song by speaking out at the listener and wondering if there’s tea in heaven.
On the gorgeous title track, which features Elton John (and his piano), Osborne admits, “I don’t know why I’m still alive, yes, the truth is I don’t want to die an ordinary man.” And the symphonic strings that bring “Ordinary Man” to a close coat that sentiment of humility in delicate glory.
On “Under the Graveyard,” there’s the chilling line, “One sip away from everything I fear. Ashes to ashes, watch me disappear,” which precedes a proclamation that the end is near. There’s also the heart-wrenching “Holy for Tonight,” on which he contemplates the moments just before death. He asks what he’ll think of when he speaks his last words, what it will feel like, if it will hurt and what he will think of when he takes his final breath. “Tomorrow is my last goodbye,” he sings. “So, I’ll be holy for tonight.”
During the interview, Osborne shares with the crowd that someone once told him writers come up with their best stuff when they’re miserable. “And believe me, I’ve been pretty fucking miserable,” he tries to say that sentence as flatly as possible but can’t stop himself from tapering off in discomfort.
2. Even though it is packed with sorrow, the album is not depressing.
Osbourne is too heroic to let age and illness get the best of him, and he’s hellbent on letting the world know he’s still Ozzy – despite his recently revealed Parkinson’s diagnosis, and the staph infection that nearly killed him in 2018. Morbid topics aside, the music itself is vigorously potent. It’s visceral, and makes the listener feel like true, unwavering Sabbath respecters got in a room and poured their souls into honoring the Prince of Darkness.
And that’s exactly what happened. With Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Chad Smith on drums, McKagan on bass, and Watt as producer and guitarist, musicians the icon inspired united to salute his legacy. “We were aggressive. We were super aggressive down there,” says McKagan. “And we were trying to be of service to Ozzy, really. This was about Ozzy. Like, let’s make the hardest record we can. Right now. Right fucking now.”
The passion of special guest Slash can also be heard on “Ordinary Man” and “Straight to Hell,” the set’s opening track, on which Osbourne exclaims, “I’ll make you scream! I’ll make you defecate!” Morrison points out that “this might be the greatest use or, possibly, the only use of the word ‘defecate’ in a song.” “Well,” Osbourne replies with a smirk that’s coupled with a dry British delivery. “I can’t think of anybody else who could get away with it.”
As Morrison points out, even the somber “Holy for Tonight” sparkles, reminiscent of 1970s glam rock, ELO and Roxy Music. The final track – not including the bonus – is “It’s a Raid,” featuring Post Malone. It’s super-fast, fun and quite punk. As McKagan says, this jolt of musical energy in particular makes you want to “break stuff.”
3. The backstory to new song “It’s a Raid” is insane.
The story that led to the creation of “It’s a Raid” is a trip. Osbourne recalls recording for Sabbath’s Vol. 4 at a house in Bel Air in the early Seventies. The band had piles of weed and coke out on the table. It was a sunny, sweaty California day, so Osbourne got up to press a button on the wall that he assumed was connected to the AC. Within a few minutes, four or five cop cars arrive. “I’m shouting, ‘IT’S A FUCKIN’ RAIIIIID,” shares an animated Osbourne.
As the story goes, he swept up as much coke as he could collect in a hastily grabbed container, locked himself in the bathroom, considered flushing the drugs for a moment before deciding that’s just not acceptable and started snorting as much of the powder as possible. He was totally gacked out, pressed against the door, muscles stiff and skin quivering, when someone tapped on the other side of the wood to let him know the police had left. “I’ve got coke coming out of my fucking ears! I didn’t sleep for four days after that.”
4. He still has a wicked sense of humor.
Of all instruments, a harmonica leads the way into “Eat Me,” a cheeky (pun intended), cannibalistic song inspired by a news article Osbourne made Watt read one day. (Sample lyrics: “I’m on the menu, I even come with dessert,” “my blood will never go old” and “Eat me! You can even give the dog a bone.”) As the song continues, the lyrics instruct the listener to smile while they tear Osbourne’s body apart and see what’s in his head.
“Eat Me” was inspired by Armin Meiwes, a German man who placed an ad on the internet looking for a volunteer to kill and eat. (He succeeded and was sentenced to life without parole.) “And because nearly everyone in California is fucking vegan… meat restaurants are rare!” He yells amongst the laughter. “I thought that’ll fuck ‘em all up.” Watt notes McKagan’s “evil riff” provides the perfect complement to the track.
Two tracks later and there’s a song about aliens, “Scary Little Green Men.” Perhaps there’s a metaphorical component alluding to unexplored territories and the unknown in general, or maybe he was just having a laugh after watching a program about UFOs on the History Channel he says he saw.
5. Watt and Osbourne are an unlikely pairing – but they work.
Watt, who was born in 1990, is known by many millennials for his collaborative work with Post Malone. He considers his young age an advantage, though, arguing that it’s allowed him to grow up loving many different types and eras of music, which he studied intensely. “I’m a fan of music,” says Watt. “So when I get to work with someone like Ozzy… I listened to Sabbath, I listened to Blizzard of Ozz. I’ve worn out those albums. I’m familiar with the kind of music that he makes and was able to step into it.”
“Kelly came home one day and said to me, ‘Dad, a friend of mine wants to know if you’d sing with him. Post Malone,’” Osbourne explains. “I said, ‘Who the fuck is Post Malone?’ Doing a song with Post Malone led Osbourne to Watt.
“We had this instant bond,” Watt declares. “And obviously, it was one of the most exciting times of my whole life. I was a giddy little kid. Then we had such a good time. I was told Ozzy was just gonna stay for an hour to do the thing, and he stayed for like four hours. We were laughing, joking, writing. And then Kelly called me after pretty emotional about how great it went and how happy Ozzy was with everything, and then she was like, ‘Will you make an album with my dad?’ And I said, ‘No. How the hell am I going to… I can’t do that. I would love to, but I’m not capable of it.’”
Watt floated the idea over to Chad Smith, who responded with a zealous, “Fuck yes, we’re doing it!” And then they called McKagan, who gave Watt the confidence to proceed. The three of them went into Watt’s studio, and in four days – for six hours a day – they wrote the music. It was an organic and seemingly effortless process with no time to overthink. “I didn’t remember making it. It happened so quick,” Watt reveals. “I can’t say how it happened. We were all touched by something.”
Soon after, Watt air-guitared and jumped around to the newly recorded music. “He’s sitting there just like this, in a chair with his cane just like this,” explains Watt. “He’s looking at me [calmly] like he’s looking ahead now. I’m freaking out. He goes, ‘Okay, can I hear the next one?’”
“I play him all 10 songs and he goes, ‘Okay, can I go now?’” A petrified, worried Watt doesn’t sleep well that night. “Was I too in his face? Was I too excited? Did he not like it? Who can sing these songs now?! He calls me the next day and goes, ‘Okay. When are we starting?’ And I was like, ‘Um, I don’t know… Do you want to come over tomorrow?’ He says yeah, and I ask, ‘Is there one of them you like?’ He goes, ‘Well, we have to write ‘em all, don’t we?’” Osbourne proceeded to come over every day after that, and they wrote the album in three weeks.
6. Despite the generational gap, Osbourne and Watt bonded over their “musical language.”
Osbourne is fascinated by how he and Watt could find common ground through references and a “musical language” despite the generational gap. “When you meet someone like when I met Andrew and it comes out so quickly, I have to question, ‘Is he as good as I think he is?’” he says. When they connected, Osbourne had been recuperating for about nine months and, according to him, music was the best medicine. “I’d been feeling like fucking death. And Andrew was a shining light for me.” He didn’t get technical with Osbourne, nor did he dwell and nitpick. “He’d go, ‘That’s great! Let’s move on,” says Osbourne. “When I did a Black Sabbath album with Rick Rubin, he had me singing the songs 50 fucking times. Listen, he’s a great producer. But if you know what you want, you don’t have to do it 50 times.”
7. A meal with Ozzy Osbourne is almost as left-of-center as he is.
When celebrating with Osbourne at his go-to restaurant, even the most elite guests should let him order, which is exactly what Watt did. Osbourne’s favorite meal? Spaghetti with cream sauce and two scoops of caviar. He calls it “rock star food,” and that’s all you need to know.