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by Martin Popoff

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Ozzy Osbourne - Down To Earth

Damn. Hard to believe in this world of palm-greased compromises, but big bearded Zakk actually got his way, or at least his wish, "way" being an impossibly loaded term in the tense political world that is the extended Ozzy think tank. Ozzy made a heavy record. A vicious record. A complicated yet hard-ass yet regal record, one befitting his classic rock stature, one consisting of ten songs (plus one pensive singer-songbirdy interlude called 'You Know...'), only, ONLY two of them ballads. Let's deal with those first shall we? Wait, first of all, this is a great album, and I'm a happy rock 'n' roller as I write this. OK: one ballad blows, the other is rich with dark, ambitious Ozzy melodies, and therefore rules. 'Dreamer' comes and goes early - track 3 - and is one of those Beatles-by-numbers things of which Ozzy now has precisely one too many, all previous ones welcome. The verse is tolerable, the chorus, completely gay. The only duffer on this more than solid album, although the single 'Gets Me Through' is a bit of a rehash of 'Thunder Underground', especially the vocal melody. But that's it bros, dudes, dude's girlfriend, etc.: one and a half songs that are safe, maybe one and an eighth that aren't so good. So yeah, that second ballad. It's called 'Running Out Of Time' and it's blessed with a less than obvious Beatles melody which unfolds into Pink Floyd tricks and a chorus that is well, average but not harmfully so. And it's a great arrangement, accessible and warmly layered, lots of parts and pieces. Recline now with me into the rest of this weighty tome, this alternately doomy, bluesy, proggy, dark, deliciously hooky piece of bass-throbbed consortium-created craftsmanship. It's all heavy and smart, beginning with the sassy groove of 'Facing Hell' (spot the 'Megalomania' vocal lines), once more Ozzy's vocal melodies becoming songs all on their own, against tortured, sobbing guitars that accumulate throughout the record to create a curiously stealth-like, not so intrusive or overbearing sort of commercial doom rock. I mean, there were all these rumours of nu-metal influences, and if there is even a trace of that, it might be in the fact that many of today's tattooed millionaires play a sort of low, grinding, swirling thing derived from Sabbath. But Ozzy owns this through that source, not to mention his '90s albums. So he's tricked us and merely stated a case, proposed through No More Tears and Ozzmosis, that Ozzy's found his heavy sound. So 'No Easy Way Out' rolls with this heft, as well as filling up with tips and tricks, breaks, offshoots, plus a few obscure Sabbath melodies. Next up is 'That I Never Had', a pure Zakk punching bag, blessed with an amazing mini-chorus, again, sent skyward by the Ozman's sly and crooked note choices. 'Junkie' further underscores Ozzy and Zakk's obscure penchant for teaming up in a drum of doom, as does 'Black Illusion', the most Sabbatherian track on the album, conceived and executed with more events than would be allowed in a Sabbath track post-Never Say Die. 'Alive' follows with even greater sleight of hand, slant of light, thick with guitars come chorus time, but bluesy and psychedelic for the verse. Finally, where you were sure, SURE, you'd be handed another "Ozzy doing a bit of gardening" ballad, the record slams the door with 'Can You Hear Them' an old school metaller, sinister, stacked, aristocratic, both dark as coal and somehow a bit power metallish. Brilliant, happening, never dull. So wot's that? Best Ozzy album of the '90s, hands down, and before that, well... it's just an impossible tangle of emotions, memories, nostalgias, that measurement is futile. Once again, inspiring congratulations on this record's purity of rock 'n' metal purpose, its deliberate challenge to its audience, its respect for the intelligence of an audience that frankly, in full composite at least, doesn't deserve it.
Rating 9

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