There was a time when rock stars were so consumed with living up to their reputation as decadent, debauched icons that there was barely enough time in the day to write music and play shows. These days, life is different, especially for those like Billy Idol songwriter and guitarist Billy Morrison, who has already traveled the road of excess. When Morrison isn’t writing songs for Idol, touring, playing with his cover band Royal Machines, or creating striking modern pop art, he writes and records for his solo project. His first album, God Shaped Hole, which includes “Gods,” an original co-written with Ozzy Osbourne, comes out Oct. 23 and is available for exclusive streaming above.
Morrison worked on the album between tours and was in the studio when he received a text message from Osbourne, seeing what he was up to. “I have never asked Ozzy for anything, which is possibly why I’m one of his closest friends,” Morrison says. “I see him all the time and we text each other every day. I hadn’t texted him in a few days and he sent me a message, saying, ‘Where the f— are you?’ And I said, ‘I’m working on a solo album.’ And the next text from him was, ‘Well, I want to sing a song on your solo album.’ I thought, ‘Yeah, that would be great, mate.’ I really didn’t think too much about it.”
Morrison continued working on the album with Billy Idol drummer Erik Eldenius. The next time he saw Sharon Osbourne, he casually mentioned that Ozzy wanted to collaborate on a song. “She was 100 percent behind it,” Morrison says. “And she got me the clearances from Epic so I could release it without having to jump through any legal hoops.”
The song, “Gods,” starts with an echoing guitar part that intertwines with a piano line reminiscent of Guns N’ Roses’ “November Rain.” Then Ozzy enters, sounding as emotionally convincing and tuneful as he has since 1991’s No More Tears: “Sometimes I feel like I’m so empty, sometimes I feel like I’m alive/ So many voices talking to me/ Please God, just let my mind survive.”
Morrison and Osbourne came up with the basic structure for the song in about 20 minutes. The rest pretty much created itself. “It was obviously channeled from something and somewhere,” Morrison says. “It wasn’t us, it was just given to us, which was amazing.”
“Gods,” which marks Osbourne’s first vocal appearance since Black Sabbath’s 2013’s comeback album 13, is one of several songs Morrison has written with the master of metal. “Everything I’ve written with Ozzy comes out sounding slightly different from what he would normally do, just because he’s working with me. I’m a rhythm guitar player, not primarily a lead guitarist, so he’s going to get a different style of writing. But this one was unlike anything we’d done before. We absolutely channeled the lyrics as well.”
Originally, Morrison planned to call his solo album Ideas and Inspirations to reflect the combination of originals and cover songs on the album. Then, Osbourne convinced him to change the title. “Ozzy was writing the chorus of ‘Gods,’ and it had the line, ‘I’ve found myself another God shaped hole.’ He looked at me and said, ‘There’s your album title.’ The song is a ballad, and I wasn’t even going to put a ballad on this album, but you don’t say no to the Prince of Darkness.”
In addition to “Gods,” God Shaped Hole features other new tracks. “Alone in the Crowd” is a modern, bluesy rocker that condemns the herd mentality; “Cinnamon Gin” is a galloping, rowdy anthem about alcoholism, which includes a mid-section embellished with TV news samples; and “Ordinary Girl” is a harmony-infused powerpop song that details a dysfunctional relationship.
God Shaped Hole also includes an unusual collection of cover songs by bands that never quite made it into the public eye: Flesh for Lulu, Senseless Things, Gary Numan and Tubeway Army, Boys Wonder, and Wasted Youth (U.K.).
“I wanted to pay tribute to the music that really inspired me growing up and gave me a feeling of invincibility that made me realize I also had something to say, despite what school and my parents were telling me,” Morrison says. “A lot of the stuff that moved me were songs no one had heard of because they were by obscure bands that had one single and then had a fight or couldn’t get arrested. So I started with the idea of recording an EP of covers that were my main inspirations, and the whole project grew from there.”
In addition to Osbourne, Jane’s Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro and Billy Idol guitarist Steve Stevens make cameo appearances on God Shaped Hole. “They’re on there because I’m in bands with both of them and they’re my friends,” Morrison says. “I didn’t want to make this an album full of special guests. I see both of those guys a lot, so when they found out I was working on this record they said, ‘Well, hey, can I come rock a solo?’ It was that kind of casual vibe. Dave’s on one track and Steve’s on two. But this album is really meant to be Billy Morrison saying, ‘I love music. These are the songs that I like.’”