Review Summary: The Madman purges some inner demons - and makes damn good music in the process.
Over the course of five (!) decades, Michael “Ozzy” Osbourne went from small-town hopeful to rock god to a perfect example of how NOT to lead your rock’n’roll life. Acquiring legendary status amongst rock fans in the 70’s and 80’s, by 2000 Ozzy Osbourne was best regarded as a joke, a caricature of a washed-out rockstar who pranced about the stage with a walking-stick, dyed his hair in purple streaks and starred in one of the most ridiculous “reality” shows in television history. His stint in the ludicrous The Osbournes
helped garner a whole new generation of fans, but lost him the respect of droves upon droves of metalheads who still worshipped him for his work on Black Sabbath and Blizzard of Ozz.
This was the situation come 2001. Ozzy was at the peak of his TV popularity, but his recording career had been dwindling for over a decade, and nobody really thought much of his audio releases anymore. The Madman knew there was No Easy Way Out
(pun intended), and so he tried to do what similarly-troubled Alice Cooper had done: revitalize his sound for the new millenium. And so - along with producer Tim Palmer and bass player Rob Trujillo but sans
prodigal son Zakk Wylde , touring at the time with his own band – the Allfather of metal set out to write the songs for his new album, Down To Earth
. The conditions were gathered for the end result to be atrocious; however, surprisingly, what came out of the cooker was the Madman’s best album since 1990’s No More Tears
In fact, Down To Earth
and No More Tears
share an important similarity: the fact that they’re both rather personal albums for Ozzy. And if on No More Tears
the confessions were limited to about half the album, on Down To Earth
the Madman seems to be expiating some serious inner demons. Nearly every lyric on this album is, in one way or another, about Ozzy’s private life, and all of them present rather complete sets of lyrics. The typical song structure on this album revolves around a “verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/solo/verse/chorus/outro” formula, allowing plenty of space for Osbourne’s ramblings, but never becoming tiredsome or repetitive.
Ozzy’s personal confessions also take on many different forms throughout the album. Opener and lead single Gets Me Through
is a heartfelt dedication to the fans, while short interlude You Know…part 1
is an equally sincere apology to Ozzy’s son and daughter. Most of the other tracks send out a message of “don’t criticize, you wouldn’t know what I’ve been through”, at times turning incredibly personal, such as in the chillingly earnest Running Out Of Time
. Ozzy’s lyrical ability and delivery shine through, with potentially whiny lines like ”tried to be a father, things just made it harder, sorry if I made you cry”
being delivered in a matter-of-fact fashion that extrudes all sappiness from them. This is Ozzy’s little slice of reality, pure and simple.
The exception is Dreamer
, which, with its peaceful/environmentalistic message and quiet, balladsy tone, seems to be Ozzy’s attempt at Imagine
, as well as a shameless attack on the airwaves. Still, even this song has reality-based lyrics and addresses a very real and present problem in a stating-the-facts way.
Musically, things are equally as interesting. Even though the heavy effect-ladening of this album makes it sound a little plastic, Zakk Wylde’s driving guitar roar cuts through the gloss to bring this album back Down To Earth
(pun intended). Listening to the blond viking’s performance here, it becomes hard to believe that he actually hated the material, as he openly stated in an interview at the time of the album’s release. In that article, Wylde referred to his work on Down To Earth
in these terms: ”Ozzy is like a father to me, and sometimes fathers ask you to do things you don’t really enjoy doing, but you have to carry them through out of love and respect for them”
. And carry it through he did, with flying colours – his trademark heavy riffing, guitar squeals and jaw-dropping solos are the highlight of this album, helping raise the material to heights unsuspected by WASP’s Joe Holmes, the original guitarist Ozzy had worked with.
Zakk’s tour de force all but drowns out Rob Trujillo and Mike Bordin’s performance; however, the pair deliver typically confident performances, with the affable Hispanic bassist in particular delivering some wicked mast runs on his five strings. Together with the understated but omnipresent keyboard work, they provide a fitting background track to Wylde and Osbourne’s show of skill.
But the real standout here are the songs. Ten out of the eleven tracks here are clearly above-average, and about half of those are standouts. Top billing has to go to Junkie
, which is purely and simply one of the best hard-rock songs I’ve ever heard. While its drug-condemning lyrics may sound a little hypocritical coming from someone who was drug-fueled for half of his life, the feeling remains that maybe Ozzy is somehow trying to make amends with his past by advising younger people not to do what he did. Musically, it’s a mammoth of a track, driven by Wylde’s pummelling guitar work and an awesome staccato delivery by Ozzy. From start to finish, it’s absolutely a delight, and by far the best song on the album.
And when it seemed nothing could top Junkie
, along comes Running Out Of Time
to almost outdo it. This is a quieter track, at least in the verse section, and the aura is somewhat balladsy, with lots of piano sections and a patient, easy-going tempo. Again, there is another huge chorus, and some nice fretwork by Wylde, making the Junkie/ROOT
sequence the highlight of the album. Other interesting moments include Gets Me Through
– a track that comes as close to Sabbath as Ozzy will ever be – and No Easy Way Out
, an atmospheric and sometimes burdening piece of atmospheric hard rock.
The backup tracks, while not as godly as the standouts, are also undeniably strong. Songs like the quasi-Goth Facing Hell
, Black Illusion
provide quality padding for the album, while You Know…part 1
is only prevented from being a standout by its short duration. So, you ask, why not a 5/5? Well, the idea has crossed my mind more than a time, but one must be realistic: some of the songs are not all that good.
Simply put, after Running Out Of Time
, nothing is ever the same again. Black Illusion
makes for a nice listen, but the final two songs are rather weak. Can You Hear Them
is merely boring – despite some good militaristic steel drums at the beginning – but Alive
is pitifully weak, ranking as the only outright bad moment on this album. But even in the early stages, there are some oscillations in interest: That I Never Had
just sits on the fence, while Facing Hell
never stands a chance of being labelled a standout.
Still, all things considered, this is as good an album as you could expect from Ozzy in 2001. Hell, it’s better
than you could expect. At bargain-bin price, like I got it, it’s a steal. But even at full price, it definitely warrants a listen for fans of not only the Madman or his viking accomplice, but the hard rock genre as a whole. Couldn’t be more highly recommended.
Gets Me Through
No Easy Way Out
Running Out Of Time