Music: Ozzy Osbourne
Few rockers have a festival named after them (none, in fact, come to mind besides Ozzfest), but then again few of them are the Ozzman.

With his leg just healed from a slip in the shower that forced the cancellation of ten dates, the former Black Sabbath singer brings his new album to Japan in a tour that will include two Kanto dates.
Ozzy has been pretty much everywhere in the mass media these days, promoting his first solo album in six years. A rollicking, sharp-as-razors heavy metal opus, Down To Earth is the work of a man who knows where to give thanks when thanks are due. The first single off the album, "Gets Me Through," is a paean to Osbourne's fans who have sustained him through the years. "I'm not the kind of person you think I am/I'm not the Antichrist or the iron man," he sings in the first verse, ripping off an old Black Sabbath song. In the second verse the formerly Satanic singer gets to the heart of the matter: "But I still love the feeling I get from you/I hope you never stop, because it gets me through."

Ozzy's reconstruction as the lovable softy of metal may alienate some of his fans who prefer to see Osbourne biting the heads off bats on stage (an infamous incident from 1982 that led to his treatment for rabies), but it's probably inevitable for a guy who just turned 53. It's also a testament to the resilience of a singer who barely survived a bout with alcoholism that almost derailed his career in the '80s.
Writers have devoted books to the influence of Black Sabbath on heavy metal, not to speak of grunge and alternative. Where, for example, would Soundgarden have been without Ozzy's trademark whining, grinding vocals? But few heavy metal singers have been able to reconstruct themselves as solo artists as effectively as Osbourne has. Perhaps that's because Ozzy was, more than a frontman, in many ways the guiding force behind Black Sabbath. Compare his post-Sabbath career with, for example, the thin offerings from Roger Plant post-Led Zeppelin, or Roger Daltry post-Who.
Ozzy first reappeared as a solo artist with Blizzard Of Oz, an album that highlighted the intense interaction between Osbourne and ex-Quiet Riot guitarist Randy Rhoads. After Rhoads' untimely death in an airplane accident, Osbourne was forced to move on, releasing Speak Of The Devil. He later paired up with Zakk Wylde, who was integral to the band through '80s.
In March 1989 Ozzy had his first US top 10 hit with a duet with Lita Ford, "Close My Eyes Forever," then returned after a brief retirement for an album with guitar wizard Steve Vai in 1994. (Strangely enough, Osbourne has also been paired with Madonna.) Ozzmosis followed in 1995 featuring Wylde and Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman, and turned out to be both a critical and commercial success.

Ozzy Osbourne plays Nihon Budokan on Feb 15 and Pacifico Yokohama on Feb 18.
See listings for details.

Image: UDO