Welcome to Dissected, where we disassemble a band’s catalog, a director’s filmography, or some other critical pop-culture collection in the abstract. It’s exact science by way of a few beers. This time, we follow Ozzy Osbourne’s solo career from the masterful Blizzard of Ozz to what, for now, remains his last solo disc, 2010’s Scream.
The man born John Michael Osbourne in Birmingham, England, on December 3, 1948, didn’t become the Prince of Darkness overnight. First rising to fame as the vocalist for Black Sabbath — the first heavy metal band — Ozzy Osbourne became as notorious for his drinking and drug habits as he was for his singing.
Ozzy hit a turning point in his life when touring with Black Sabbath in 1979. His habit was bad, and maybe worse, every night a young, hotshot band called Van Halen were blowing Black Sabbath off the stage. Ozzy was fired at the end of that tour, and, by most accounts, he was expected to drink himself to death and fade into the annals of rock history.
But that’s not what happened.
Against all odds, Ozzy launched a remarkable solo career. His sound was simple: the horror-movie panache of Sabbath but with the catchiness and flair of Van Halen, seasoned with the prevocative antics pioneered by Alice Cooper.
Almost 40 years later, Ozzy is in the midst of his final world tour, a celebratory romp to close off his career as both an undeniable metal legend and a controversial rabble-rouser.
At this point, Ozzy’s almost as famous for the tumult that has surrounded his career as the music itself — things like biting the head off a bat in Des Moines, Iowa, urinating on a statue on the Alamo grounds, or any number of zany moments from reality TV show The Osbournes .
Behind all the drama, though, Ozzy has left behind an impressive body of work, one full of exciting songs, but also complete with some misses along the way. Ozzy’s solo career is one of guitar music’s great common spaces, bridging classic rock, glam, progressive rock and traditional heavy metal. From Santiago to Tokyo, people know the chorus to “Crazy Train” by heart and are getting their last opportunity to hear it live on this “No More Tours 2” trek, making now the perfect time to deconstruct the studio albums of original material in Ozzy Osbourne’s solo discography.
10. Black Rain (2007)
In Between the Ups and Downs (Analysis): For better or worse, Ozzy lives or dies by his lead guitarist, and in 2007, longtime collaborator Zakk Wylde pinch-harmonic’ed his way through Ozzy’s weakest effort. Black Rain sounds like a Black Label Society record, leaning hard on blues scales, mid-tempo groove, and interchangeable riffs. Unfortunately, it bears more resemblance to the Black Label Society that wrote Mafia than the one that wrote “Stillborn” or the underrated The Blessed Hellride album. Mileage on Black Label Society may vary, but Black Rain definitely doesn’t feel like an Ozzy record, and it seems like Osbourne knows as much. He didn’t even play its best song on every date of that tour, and Ozzy dismissed Wylde two years later.
Osbourne welcomed Wylde back to the band in 2017, and there may be another Wylde-led Ozzy album in the future, but right now their final statement together is this disc: a whole lot of pentatonic scales and stomping. From the cheesy harmonica in the title track to the monotonous rhythms, almost every choice on Black Rain caters to a broad audience and, as a consequence, only really reaches the lowest common denominator.
Don’t Wanna Stop Listening (Best Song): Ozzy has always put his best foot forward where singles are concerned, and, true to form, the radio cut on Black Rain whips. “I Don’t Wanna Stop” still sounds like a Black Label Society song, but has some of the brute force that made “Stillborn” an instant classic. Wylde’s chugging chorus riff and blistering solo make a compelling vehicle for serviceable lyrics about Ozzy’s inability to die — or to stop putting out so-so albums.
Mental Wounds Still Healing (Worst Song): The competition for the last place on Ozzy’s worst solo record is stiff. Why on earth is “The Almighty Dollar” almost seven minutes long? Who told the Prince of Darkness that his fans need another cloying ballad like “Lay Your World on Me” or “Here for You”? However, “Civilize the Universe” trounces both, with an irritating major-key chorus that seems to repeat forever. Oscillating effects soak Wylde’s guitar work like an attempt to cover up this utter lack of a riff. Maybe worse, Ozzy’s perennial flower-child streak pollutes the lyrics with smarmy pap. Less “Civilize the Universe”, more “Symptom of the Universe”, please.
09. Down to Earth (2001)
In Between the Ups and Downs: “I’m not the Antichrist or the Iron Man,” Ozzy yowls one minute into the first song on 2001’s Down to Earth — well, why the hell not? His follow-up to the underrated Ozzmosis album could stand to be more sinister. Instead, it’s unremarkable.
Mid-paced and groovy in the extreme with a hideous photoshopped cover, it’s the Prince of Darkness’ obvious attempt to fit into the alt-metal idiom that dominated rock charts at the turn of the millennium, and which he helped bolster and commodify with the successful first few runs of Ozzfest.
Maybe Ozzfest has something to do with Down to Earth’s blandness; Osbourne had reunited with Black Sabbath twice since Ozzmosis to play the traveling fest and had already begun work on what would become the final Black Sabbath album, 13. Some of his attention had to be elsewhere.
Not for lack of trying, Ozzy recruited former Suicidal Tendencies bassist Robert Trujillo and Faith No More drummer Mike Bordin into his band. For good measure, he enlisted superstar producer and songwriter Tim Palmer — fresh off working with U2 on All That You Can’t Leave Behind — to polish the album. It’s so polished that there’s no edge left on the damn thing, just nu-metal riffs stapled to ’80s hard-rock choruses.
Don’t Wanna Stop Listening: On ”Facing Hell”, Osbourne and Wylde manage to find a little of that old black magic. It’s the only song besides “Black Illusion” that feels like metal proper. An above-average electronic intro gives way to competent chugging from Wylde and some interesting drum fills during the chorus courtesy of Bordin. Osbourne often finds his footing when facing down conservative Christianity, and “Facing Hell” delivers with necromancy and blasphemy.
Mental Wounds Still Healing: Thirty seconds in, “Junkie” sounds like one of the better tracks on Down to Earth. Wylde’s riff is strong, but that’s all the song has going for it. Ozzy phones in an annoying and lazy chorus, and the verses sound a bit too much like Korn to feel like proper Ozzy. Also, like Korn’s worst songs, it never seems to find the right ending. At four-and-a-half minutes long, it feels twice as long.
08. Scream (2010)
In Between the Ups and Downs: Switching guitarists tends to bring the best out of the Prince of Darkness. Though his voice shows its wear on tear on Scream, hotshot axeman Gus G brings out his best performance in a decade.
Born Konstantinos Karamitroudis, Gus G is unique in Ozzy’s discography for two reasons: one, he had a lengthy career before joining forces with Ozzy; two, despite spending eight years in the band, his recorded output only lasted one album.
Gus G’s previous credits at the time included melodic death metal band Nightrage, as well as power metal acts Dream Evil and Firewind — both of which owe some debt to Ozzy’s ’80s output. As such, Gus had a well-developed style that paid homage to Ozzy’s pre-Wylde sound but also had a modern, aggressive edge.
It’s no surprise, then, that for better or worse, Scream modernized Ozzy’s sound in a major way. For better: everything about “Diggin’ Me Down”. For worse: Ozzy almost rapping on “Let it Die”. Unfortunately for Gus, Ozzy’s age shows. He sounds winded and not quite up to the task of taking the compositions over the top. Maybe that’s why, besides the title track, Ozzy performed almost nothing from the record live.
Tellingly, Ozzy allowed Zakk Wylde (not to mention Slash and Tom Morello) to play with his band on the 2012-2015 “Ozzy and Friends” tour. And when Wylde retook his slot as Ozzy’s guitarist in 2017, relegated Scream to cult curiosity status, rather than the beginning of a new era for the Prince of Darkness.
Don’t Wanna Stop Listening: Gus G tries to fit as many ideas as he can into the six minutes of “Diggin’ Me Down” — an acoustic intro, followed by a synthesizer intro, and so on. It takes him a minute and a half to hit the most Tony Iommi-like riff he’s ever written. Chugging palm-muted triplets give the verses an undeniable modern metal sheen. It’s like he and Ozzy tried to shoehorn the entirety of metal history into one ambitious cut.
Mental Wounds Still Healing: The cellos that open “Time” make a little hint at the symphonic power metal that Gus G knows how to play. Ozzy singing over a Rhapsody song would be far preferable to this warmed-over ballad. “Time waits for no one, it’s never what it seems/ Stop waiting for tomorrow/ Stop living in your dreams,” Ozzy pleads, as if the guy who’s been a rock star since he was 21 years old and who has snorted more cocaine than Scarface knows what it’s like to let life pass him by.
07. Ozzmosis (1995)
In Between the Ups and Downs: On the most front-loaded album since his debut, Ozzy opens Ozzmosis with the unstoppable one-two punch of “Perry Mason” and “I Just Want You”. The highlights don’t stop there. “Thunder Underground” rolls like an Abrams tank and “See You on the Other Side” is the rare excellent Ozzy ballad — of course, Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead helped write it. Ozzy had no business being this good in 1995, maybe the weakest year in metal history.
On the other hand, it’s hard to suck when your backing band includes Rick Wakeman of Yes and Geezer Butler of Black Sabbath. Butler saves this album, and when he and Wylde both do what they do best, Ozzmosis shines. The steam runs out by the end, though, with too few ideas spread out over too-long songs, a trend which has plagued Osbourne since.
Don’t Wanna Stop Listening: Not for the last time, Ozzy puts the best song at the beginning of the album. Anchored by one of Geezer Butler’s finest bass riffs, “Perry Mason” ranks in the top-five songs in Osbourne’s repertoire. Each second feels necessary, from Wakeman’s organ intro to the breakdown that ends it. John Purdell, who co-wrote the title track to No More Tears four years earlier, returned with lyrics about … a 1960s prime-time drama about a lawyer? Somehow, Ozzy sells it. Too bad he seldom performs this song — it belongs in every set.
Mental Wounds Still Healing: A cheesy sitar hook? Gross. A song about how much Ozzy loves his son? Even grosser. The wimpy synth-focused ballad “My Little Man” can’t even tread water. Ozzy’s love of ’60s psychedelia is well-documented and brings out his worst instincts as a songwriter — “The Age of Aquarius” this ain’t. Every chord change and drum fill feels like it’s been done before and better. Osbourne’s too-earnest sentimentality robs this tune of any power it might have otherwise had.
06. No Rest for the Wicked (1988)
In Between the Ups and Downs: Zakk Wylde’s first album as Ozzy’s guitarist is also one of his best, in part because it doesn’t always sound like his signature style. Sure, his ever-present pinch harmonics pepper the album, but these compositions hew closely to the template that Randy Rhoads innovated, if a little heavier and more aggressive — Wylde was 21 when the album was released and maybe hadn’t quite come into his own yet. The return of bassist and lyricist Bob Daisley meant No Rest for the Wicked was always going to sound in line with the Rhoads records, as well.
Early recording sessions with Queen producer Roy Thomas Baker didn’t produce results. Baker left after Wylde asked to re-record all of his guitar parts, leaving Fleetwood Mac producer Keith Olsen to pick up the pieces. Olsen helped Wylde find his tone, but did not rescue Osbourne’s voice. Ozzy sounds worse for the wear — reverb coats his voice, and the lyrics don’t give him a lot to work except for opener “Miracle Man”, a diss track aimed at his heretofore heckling critic, televangelist Jimmy Swaggart.
Maybe because Wylde improved so much on the subsequent tour — playing Black Sabbath songs with Geezer Butler every night will do that — No Rest for the Wicked is a somewhat forgotten album in Ozzy’s discography. He seldom plays songs from it, though he’s been known to break out the moody-but-overlong ballad “Fire in the Sky”.
Don’t Wanna Stop Listening: Wylde found his squealing, stomping pentatonic scale attack for the first time on “Breakin’ All the Rules”. Moody, brooding, and muscular at once, it’s a taste of the greatness that he and Osbourne would achieve a few years later on No More Tears. Wylde even delivers the second vocal hook during the song’s churning outro.
Mental Wounds Still Healing: The Ozzman’s substance abuse is the stuff of legend. Rather than play coy, Osbourne’s never been shy about discussing the ills of drink and drugs but maybe should have cut it out after Sabbath’s “Snowblind” because “Demon Alcohol” tastes like pruno. When Ozzy speak-sings “I’ll get you!” like a mischievous gnome, it’s got to be the single least-threatening vocal take the Prince of Darkness has ever laid down.