Ozzy Osbourne wants us to know something: He's not finished. Despite the rumors, the news reports, this health crisis or that one, the once and forever Prince of Darkness is still making music. And Patient Number 9 is no swan song — if he can help it. As long as Ozzy remains standing (or even lying down), and still able to laugh and shriek and weep into a microphone, you can expect him to rise again and again like Nosferatu.
This time he's upping the stakes with an all-star cast of sidemen and soloists led by the classic-rock icons Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, along with an unexpected reunion with his prodigal brother from Black Sabbath, the riff master Tony Iommi.
Since recording his last album, 2020's Ordinary Man, Osbourne has been in recovery mode, revealing a diagnosis of Parkinson's, pneumonia, healing from a bad fall at home, plus other illnesses, injuries and surgeries. Some of these health issues already interrupted his planned No More Tours 2 in 2019, and then COVID-19 happened. Ozzy recording a new album during the long months of coronavirus was the only solution.
Many guests recorded their parts virtually, interacting with Ozzy and producer Andrew Watt from studios across town or across the globe. Others gathered at Watt's studio in Beverly Hills. Among them were stars in their own right: on bass were Duff McKagan and onetime Ozzy band member Robert Trujillo; drumming were Red Hot Chili Pepper Chad Smith and the late Foo Fighter Taylor Hawkins (in some of his last recording sessions). Guitarists Zakk Wylde and Josh Homme were also here, part of far-reaching dream team of players coming together on Patient Number 9 not as a scattered mess of mismatched tracks but a cohesive album.
Credit Watt, who made sure the many guests and musical ideas were all there to serve the needs of Ozz, while also injecting some modern energy into the mix. It's his second album in an ongoing collaboration with the metal originator. Ordinary Man arrived nearly a decade after Osbourne's previous solo album, and seven years since Black Sabbath finally reunited and then signed off with the well-received 13.
Watt is a studio wizard still best known for his work in modern pop and hip-hop, guiding tunes by Cardi B, Justin Bieber and (most recently) Britney Spears with Elton John, and other names that don't normally appear in a heavy-metal album review. But Watt is also a guitarist and a true believer in rock, so when he and Ozzy first connected on the single "Take What You Want," featuring Osbourne with hit-maker Post Malone, something clicked and Ordinary Man followed as a startling comeback few expected.
That album was a collision of loudness and an occasional hint of pop, but Patient Number 9 is fully a hard-rock and metal record. And if the idea of Clapton and Beck playing on an Ozzy Osbourne record would have been unthinkable in the crazed first decade of Ozzy's solo career, on Patient Number 9 it not only makes perfect sense but makes you wonder why it took so long. The old genre separations matter a lot less in 2022 than they did in 1982.
On the new collection, real life is as grim as anything Ozzy's ever conjured up in the supernatural. The lyric, "Nothing feels right …," appears in two different songs. Which is maybe to be expected after spending too much time with doctors and in hospital rooms. The title song opens with Osbourne's madman muttering, weeping and laughing over an intricate intro, moaning, "I want to go ho-o-o-ome … Mommy! Mommy!" You can almost feel Ozzy's eyes rolling to the back of his head as he recalls unhappy stays in hospitals of one kind of another, lamenting in an almost childlike vocal, "Hiding the pills inside your mouth/Swallow them down then spit them out."
As the opening track, "Patient Number 9" also includes the dazzling guitar work of Beck, who rips open a solo that isn't an echo from his glorious youth, but the sound of a modern guitarist still striving to explore. His playing is relentless, muscular and mysterious, accelerating then pulling back, stuttering and soaring to a finish.
Beck also appears on the Beatles-ish "A Thousand Shades," with a closing solo that soars with electric cries of ecstasy, and Osbourne delivers the most wistful lyrics of the album: "I look up to the sky but the sun never shines ... There's a thousand different shades of darkness/Coloring our faith." Ozzy is also accompanied by an orchestra conducted by David Campbell (father of that other Beck, the "Loser" alt-rocker).
Clapton makes a powerful impression on his only track, "One of Those Days," which more reflects his ultra-heavy power trio Cream than his early time as a Yardbird. He begins with a signature blues lead of elegance and flow, but soon shifts into some explosive wah-wah that shows the Slowhand guitarist can still get loud and aggressive (and probably should more often).
Missing from the Yardbirds guitar hero reunion is Jimmy Page, of course, but the album still reflects his presence with the notably Zeppelin-esque "Immortal," with layers of guitar work by Pearl Jam's Mike McCready, Watt and Wylde. Ozzy sings a spooky tale of being a vampire on the prowl: "Blood on my tongue tastes of eternity."
"No Escape From Now" is a song Iommi initiated for the project, with an ominous acoustic intro to accompany Ozzy's watery vocal before playing one of his crushing, industrial-strength riffs. By any standard, it's a highlight of the album, and a hint of what a continuing reunion of Sabbath could have been, if not for health issues and old tensions.
Iommi also delivers a wild solo to "Degradation Rules," and Ozzy brings out his harmonica, a sonic bolt of lightning that instantly transports the track to another time, when Sabbath and metal were in their early, bluesy stages. Within that extra-heavy sound, the singer offers some smirking commentary on masturbation and porn: "Sticky little magazines ... Beating on your jewels ... Masturbating fools/Watching RedTube rules."
While Iommi, Beck and Clapton will draw the most headlines, no player on the album is more essential here than Wylde, taking the lead on four songs, but in support on several more. Though he didn't appear on Ordinary Man, Wylde has long been Ozzy's most devoted, dependable player, a true believer in Ozzy's story and still jazzed to be part of it. As ever, he's as comfortable tapping into the Sabbath tradition as recreating the dazzling guitar racket of Randy Rhoads, while also building sounds of his own on "Nothing Feels Right" and the bleak "Evil Shuffle."
In a real way, the cosmic, barely two-minute closing track, "Darkside Blues," ends things where Ozzy's musical obsessions began, with a spooky echo of blues. On acoustic guitar, Watt plays springy bottleneck to recreate something of the ancient blue notes that first inspired so many British rockers in the 1960s, from Cream and Led Zeppelin to the Rolling Stones and a young band from Birmingham called Black Sabbath.
By the time Ozzy closes the album with a final laugh, he sounds a lot less nostalgic than ready for something more. Whether he gets back onstage or in a studio (and as his slowly improving health allows), this heavy-metal patient only sounds recharged, not ready for any farewells or swan songs just yet.