Ozzy Osbourne: ‘Patient Number 9’ Album Review

Ozzy Osbourne: 'Patient Number 9' Album Review

Album Cover Photo used for review purposes © 2022 Epic Records

One of the most iconic and polarizing figures in the history of music and culture, Ozzy Osbourne, has returned with a brand new album of original material in the form of Patient Number 9. The album, Osbourne’s second in just under three years, follows 2020’s Ordinary Man, a record that had been quietly accepted by the listening public as the legend’s final offering.

That isn’t to say, however, that reception to Ordinary Man was muted – quite the contrary. Ozzy’s first full-length LP in a decade earned the metal master his eighth solo top ten record, along with a top 3 debut on the Billboard 200 chart.

Still, there was an unspoken understanding between Ozzy Osbourne and the fans that his time in the mortal realm was rapidly evaporating. There was a finality to seemingly each project he’d been involved with in recent years; from the Black Sabbath reunion album 13, released in 2013 and touted as the group’s final offering, to Ordinary Man itself, rife with allusions to the afterlife and the promise of an inevitable end.

“Today I woke up and I hate myself,” read the opening lines of “Under the Graveyard.” “Death doesn’t answer when I cry for help. No high could save me from the depths of Hell.”

Not exactly ideal subject matter for an album’s lead single if you’re the individual responsible for the marketing of said album, but categorically it falls pretty closely in line with the thematic arc of Ozzy Osbourne’s catalog over the course of the half-century which has comprised his storied career.

While Ordinary Man played like a meticulously crafted and respectful – if occasionally overproduced – send-off for a rock veteran, Patient Number 9 revives an unpredictable and genuinely unsettling quality of Osbourne’s artistry which vividly colored his early work – both solo and as a member of Black Sabbath.

The cartoon insanity that rattled MTV audiences throughout the music video run of “Bark of the Moon,” the occult leanings of “Mr. Crowley” and the title track from the debut Black Sabbath album terrified young listeners into tearing the needles away from their turntables; the presentation of the aesthetic that leads one to question whether it’s truly all an act or if the man legitimately emerged from Hell, or at the very least is certifiably insane by real-world standards; these elements are all present for the first time in decades with Patient Number 9, and they serve to make the record the most compelling Ozzy release since 1991’s No More Tears.

The discernible dimension of the album comes much from Ozzy Osbourne’s approach to the heavily death-oriented concepts. This is no pity party. There is acceptance, anger, confusion, and the downright demented embrace of what is – or perhaps isn’t? – to come.

Ozzy Osbourne toes a very delicate line throughout, exploring heavy themes of substantial consequence, but whose proverbial offerings have all but been plundered entirely by decades of genre evolution which have brought about countless songwriters seeking the reward from similar brooding, macabre lyricism.

It’s an impressive feat of balance – the mining of ideas that have been exploited time and time again, but finding interesting ways to present said ideas in a new and interesting way without losing the familiarity of the initial idea itself. It’s an approach from which rock music – and blues before it – was developed.

The quality is further underscored by the slew of six-string sharpshooters brought in to augment Ozzy Osbourne’s already stacked backing band – which includes Metallica bassist and Ozzy alumnus Robert Trujillo, Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith, and even the late, great Taylor Hawkins of Foo Fighters, to name a few.

On the guitar end,Patient Number 9 boasts appearances from axe-legends like Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton, as well as tried-and-true collaborators such as Zakk Wylde and Tony Iommi.

The collaborations never feel contrived, however, as often can be the case with such megastar-pairings. Iommi and Wylde sound as comfortable as ever providing The Prince of Darkness with a custom-made sonic backdrop for his musings on misery, mortality, and everything in between.

The Jeff Beck collaborations are almost shockingly effective, the blitzkrieg of harmonics being whipped around in a frenzy perfectly accentuating Ozzy Osbourne’s manic turns of phrase.

But perhaps the album’s biggest surprise in terms of features comes from Eric Clapton’s work on “One of Those Days, a tune which finds the bluesman quite seriously sounding as engaged as he has since his Cream days.

“It’s one of those days that I don’t believe in Jesus,” Ozzy Osbourne sneers in the song’s key lyric, which, while fairly upsetting, also happens to be one of the most evocative instances of the classic “gee, I sure am having a bad day” lyrical trope.

“Have I lost my mind? Killing myself but I never die,” goes the tune’s second verse, continuing the album’s conceptual theme of Ozzy Osbourne not as a delicate elder statesman, but as an inevitable entity incapable of being killed altogether.

Ozzy Osbourne appears to have found an empathetic collaborator in returning producer Andrew Watt – who seems genuinely invested not simply in cashing in on the name and legacy of The Prince of Darkness, but in forging a new musical path forward for the rock legend.

“Mr. Darkness” plays like a heavy metal reimagining of Eminem’s “Stan,” with Osbourne obsessively seeking correspondence with the mysterious character from which the song takes its name – in all likelihood the allegorical personification of death itself.

“God Only Knows” brings Jane’s Addiction guitarist and former Red Hot Chili Pepper Dave Navarro on board for a slow burn arena anthem which, to a certain extent, calls to mind the Elton John-assisted title track from 2020’s Ordinary Man.

The Wylde assisted “Evil Shuffle” echoes Paranoid era Sabbath with its “War Pigs” style breaks in instrumentation and swinging tempo. While the song’s title may seem rather on the nose, it works, and for much of the same reasons cuts like “N.I.B” and “The Writ” did all those years ago.

To this end, perhaps the most welcome aspect of the album is the return of the B-Movie Horror aesthetic present in much of Osbourne’s most popular material.

Once the proverbial doors were blown off their hinges by Black Sabbath’s early run, swarms of young would-be musicians formed bands in which they would attempt – often successfully, it should be noted – to make music even more frightening than that of their heroes.

As a result, there were attempts to amp up the “realism” of the horror, which of course stripped the concept of what had made it appealing to begin with. This is the same line of thinking that would bring about the overblown, staggeringly unnecessary – albeit digitally stunning – 2019 remake of The Lion King; a project which fell remarkably short of the quality of its source material despite having a theoretical edge going in by way of its massive $260 billion budget – not to mention over 20 years of technological advancements which were made in the interim between the theatrical releases of the two films.

But back to the horror-oriented metal of which Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath were arguably the most significant founding figures: to call it cheesy wouldn’t be quite accurate. It’s terrifying in the same way that Evil Dead is terrifying, in that its campiness allows for greater suspension of disbelief, and subsequently, greater return on the investment that is the experience of the work itself.

In short, it can be difficult to detach oneself from the physical world in which one exists in the most literal sense, and even more so when the escapism is cluttered with incessant reminders of that physical world and, consequently, the patently clear notion that the exciting world in which one is attempting to lose themselves is indisputably just a bunch of malarkey.

Realism can be important, and it can be quite effective. But attempting to manifest a true-to-life replica of the world itself through the abstract dimension of artistic expression would debatably be an exercise in futility. But the line between cold-hard reality and fantastical mythological worlds is one that Ozzy Osbourne has expertly walked for many, many years.

Furthermore, Ozzy Osbourne has always been game to tackle novel concepts due either to a security in the knowledge that he’ll be able to bring something unique to the table, or due to a complete and utter lack of consideration of others’ perceptions of his choices – possibly both.

It’s also the discipline of committing oneself to the core essentials – the meat and potatoes of the process, as it were. Credit here in all likelihood should be at least shared with Watt, who is able to wrangle this corral of combustible musical elements into a unified front, avoiding the frequent pitfall of star-studded affairs in that they can often play more compilations than singular bodies of work.

Watt was able to accomplish a similar feat with Eddie Vedder’s Earthling earlier this year, and with a similar assemblage of musical forces nonetheless. Watt, along with Vedder himself and Chili Peppers alumnus Josh Klinghoffer contributed guitar to the record, while Smith sat in on drums.

Ozzy Osbourne offers a fantastic showing vocally, despite a Parkinson’s diagnosis – initially revealed in 2020 – and 73 years of unapologetically intense living. The Godfather of heavy metal even blows a little harmonica on the album’s second Iommi feature, “Degradation Rules.”

Patient Number 9, Ozzy Osbourne’s 13th LP, is a surprise triumph for the metal pioneer. While more recent offerings such as Ordinary Man, and its predecessor by ten years, Scream, certainly have something to offer, particularly to die-hard fans, Patient Number 9 is representative of a quality level seldom broached by active veterans of the industry.

As far as Ozzy Osbourne himself, his last brush with musical craftsmanship of this magnitude likely occurred during the administration of George H.W. Bush, and possibly even prior.

What Ozzy Osbourne, Watt, and company have accomplished with Patient Number 9 is truly a marvel to behold, and if – heaven forbid – this should be the last full-length offering fans receive from The Prince of Darkness, may it be remembered as one worthy of one of the most fascinating and significant legacies in the history of popular music.

Ozzy Osbourne: Patient Number 9 Album Review article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022

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