Monday, October 3, 2022

Review: Ozzy Osbourne, "Patient Number 9"

I gave myself a few weeks to sit with Ozzy Osbourne’s Patient Number 9 before rendering an opinion on it because I didn’t want a knee-jerk either way. I initially liked it a lot. With repeated listens, I still think it’s some of Ozzy’s best work in quite a while, though I’m not nearly as excited by it as I was a few weeks ago.

Let’s get my big complaint out of the way up front, and it’s the same as on the last album, Ordinary Man: Andrew Watt’s production sucks. There’s no nice way to put it. It’s not quite as horrible here, but it’s still bad. It’s over-compressed, muffled and muddy, and there’s this god-awful buzz that he seems to love, because it shows up all over the last two records. To me, it sounds like a busted speaker.

In places, I almost think he’s trying to give it the lo-fi sound of Ozzy’s early albums, but even if that’s the case, it falls flat – quite literally. It’s a real shame because a clear, quality, dynamic sound could have elevated both of these albums a couple of notches.

It’s particularly problematic on Patient Number 9 because you have a tremendous lineup of players joining the cast, and with a few notable exceptions, they all end up sounding kind of the same. One of those exceptions is the title track, featuring Jeff Beck, which I already talked about back when it was initially released. It’s certainly the best thing here, and honestly, probably the best solo Ozzy Osbourne tune since the ‘90s. It has a great energy, and while Beck’s solo on the heavy part gets stuck in Watt’s mud, he does get some good time when the song goes acoustic at the end.

Elsewhere on Patient Number 9, you have guest shots from luminaries like Eric Clapton and Ozzy’s former Black Sabbath mate Tony Iommi, as well as Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready and, of course, longtime Ozzy axeman Zakk Wylde. These appearances provide all of the album’s best songs.

“Immortal,” featuring McCready, sounds like something that might have come off of 1995’s Ozzmosis, but Ozzy’s vocal melody on the verse also harkens back to some of his 1980s work. I get an Ultimate Sin feel off of parts of it – not for the last time on Patient Number 9.

The Clapton guest shot, “One of Those Days,” opens in a typical newer Ozzy ballad style, and Clapton delivers some licks reminiscent of the slower parts of “Layla.” The song then builds to a good-time, poppy hard-rock chorus that’s fun and memorable. Clapton gets a better shake than most of the guest guitarists as his playing really stands out on the track, but that’s mainly because many of his lead licks come over the softer parts of the song, so there’s not as much competing. He does slice through better than Beck did on the title track, though.

Speaking of Jeff Beck, he’s back for a second appearance on the ballad “A Thousand Shades.” It’s like so many Ozzy Osbourne ballads on his mid-’90s-to-present records. It’s a good song, but not really a standout. Much the same can be said of the other ballads on Patient Number 9.

Wylde has more time than the other players, appearing on four songs. “Parasite” is a heavy tune that loses some of its impact from that buzzy guitar sound. “Mr. Darkness” does have plenty of the late-era Ozzy ballad sound on the softer parts, but there’s something in there that provides a flavor of Blizzard of Ozz or Diary of a Madman. The heavier chorus riff is maybe the most Zakk Wylde-like riff of his appearances, but it still doesn’t have the aggression that I expect from him.

“Nothing Feels Right” is a forgettable bit of ballad. “Evil Shuffle,” though, is kind of interesting and the best of the four. Despite the appearance of Iommi on a couple of songs, Wylde works out his Black Sabbath fetish on this heavy and bluesy tune. The chorus is a bit of a letdown after the punchy verse, but it’s still solid. Wylde also offers a tip of the hat to Eric Clapton after the second chorus of the song, as there’s a momentary riff that brings to mind a slow and gloomy version of Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love.”

Now, for the moments on Patient Number 9 that probably caught most people’s attention – the two collaborations with Iommi. The first one released, “Degradation Rules,” was a bit of a head-scratcher for me. With all due respect to the Divinyls, songs about self-pleasure are probably never a really good idea, but particularly not when you’re a septuagenarian. The song starts with a very Sabbath-like riff (of course) and Ozzy blowing on a harmonica. It immediately gives the vibe of one classic tune, then the lyrics come in, and I’m trying to imagine how the conversation about recording this song went.

Ozzy: Hey, Tony, you want to come play on my new album?

Iommi: We can do something Sabbath-y.

Ozzy: And I’ll play harmonica.

Iommi: Cool, so something like “The Wizard.”

Ozzy: And it’ll be about wanking off.

Iommi: [Sigh.] Whatever, just give me the check.

All jokes aside, “Degradation Rules” is not a bad song, and Iommi’s even joked in an interview that he was glad he played on it when he was told what it was about. And it’s certainly not Ozzy’s first run-in with cringy lyrics. Let’s not forget the “make you scream, make you defecate” line on 2020’s Ordinary Man.

The other Iommi song, “No Escape from Now,” recalls classic slow Black Sabbath tunes, with Ozzy using echoing effects over Iommi’s dark, broken up arpeggiations. Then they break out into a big grooving, head-banging riff for the verse. The chorus of the song almost reminds me of a Ronnie James Dio-era Sabbath tune. Iommi is the guitarist that really commands respect from Watt, though, and he’s the one who most sounds like himself. “No Escape from Now” is a very close second to the title track for the strongest performance.

The remaining three songs with Watt on guitar are a mixed bag. “Dead and Gone” gives off “Shot in the Dark” vibes and isn’t awful. “God Only Knows,” I think, might have been a much stronger song with the Tony Iommi treatment. As is, it’s another forgettable ballad with nods to Sabbath, and it doesn’t help that the mix sounds like utter crap.

The most interesting of the three is album closer, “Darkside Blues,” which is a snippet of a Delta blues-style song with Ozzy wailing over an acoustic slide guitar riff. Truthfully, I’d like to hear more of this with less of the effects on Ozzy’s voice to try to make it sound like an early 20th Century recording. I’d be down for a set of honest Ozzy blues recordings, particularly if Iommi were involved, too.

Once again, I end an Ozzy album with mixed feelings. I really want him to deliver that one badass swan-song album, and while I think Patient Number 9 is good, it’s not that. I’d love to hear a collection of the best songs from this album and Ordinary Man put together with some really good production. I think that would get us much closer. But I’d rather have an album that’s just good and not great, than no Ozzy Osbourne album at all.

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