A Good Day in Mr. Osbourne's Neighborhood

Down to Earth (Epic Records)
Ozzy Osbourne

By David Lilly

'Tis the season for some of rock `n' roll's living legends to emerge a bit from behind their myths and give you a glimpse of their real selves. It is startling, refreshing, and most welcome. Ozzy Osbourne - the singer to whom all other heavy metal vocalists are compared - is the latest artist to make this move, with his first "solo" CD in six years, Down to Earth. This vulnerable and brave act might stir some uneasiness in fans who prefer Ozzy in a more sinister guise. It turns out he's human after all. He's also a wise, interesting person, a family man and still a charismatic entertainer.

After several years of studio silence, the first new sound from the metal world's favorite "madman" is 29 seconds of lovely, drizzling piano intro that opens "Gets Me Through," a love song to everyone on whose stove he has cooked his dinner since the late 1960s. The piano soon gets interrupted in an abrupt and LOUD manner as Zakk Wylde's guitar, Robert Trujillo's bass, and Mike Bordin's drums CRASH through the speakers.

When, right off the, er, bat, Ozzy insists that he's not the person we think he is, that he's "not the antichrist or the iron man," and lets us know, "I try to entertain you the best I can," you want to hug the guy and reassure him, somehow, that it's all OK. The first time around, several songs on this CD could be heard as somewhat tailored for radio. When you start getting better acquainted with them, however, you might realize it is not merely commercialization; there is a Beatles' influence here, including the Lennon-esque ballad, "Dreamer."

If you fear that Ozzy has become maudlin, though, get a load of the creative juices flowing (or, in some cases, splashing madly) through head-banging beauties like "Facing Hell," "That I Never Had," "Junkie" and "Can You Hear Them?" Check out the delicious hooks of the sledgehammer-pounding "No Easy Way Out," and the idiosyncratic melody of "Black Illusion." Being on the receiving end of the man's distinctive singing voice, near the end we get a double treat as Ozzy performs a duet with himself.

While this disc isn't quite a masterpiece, given what Mr. Osbourne has done and endured throughout his music career, the fact that he's still around, still working and can make a really good record deserves a thumbs-up. Find more info at www.ozzy.com.