Saturday, September 25, 2010

Black Sabbath: Technical Ecstasy (1976)

Motion for Reconsideration

Technical Ecstasy is often considered the first really bad album in Black Sabbath's catalog. With all the legendary things that band did up to that point, it's worthy of reconsideration.

To understand it, you have to see how the band got to this point. They had released four consecutive mind-blowingly amazing albums in a span of three years: 1970's Black Sabbath and Paranoid, 1971's Master of Reality, and 1972's Black Sabbath Vol. 4. Every one of these albums is an amazing classic. To record even one album that good is reserved for the very best musicians around. To record two of them is extremely rare, and usually requires more than a couple months in between. To do four, in three years, is absolutely astounding.

So, it's easy to understand why they chose to go for more experimentation on the following year's Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. And the experimentation paid off. Many would even put that album on par with the previous four. After that, they took more time off, waiting until 1975 to release Sabotage. That album continued the experimentation, and in many ways it was still paying off. But with both of these, they still maintained the core, heavy Sabbath sound.

By 1976, the band must have been exhausted from this insane touring and release schedule. They played around and experimented even further on Technical Ecstasy.

It starts with "Back Street Kids", which is essentially a far less interesting version of "Children of the Grave". The follow-up, "You Won't Change Me", is a criminally forgotten classic by the band. It's sort of psychedelic gothic doom metal replete with organ. In a sense, it's recent Cathedral, only three decades earlier.

Then it would appear the label put some other band's song on the album. "It's Alright" is a boring piano ballad with Bill Ward providing vocals. It is completely out of place on a Sabbath album, but here it is nonetheless.

"Gypsy" starts out as fairly standard Sabbath (in the more upbeat parts of that sound) before going into a story told by Osbourne in spoken word with ridiculous piano in the background. That part derails the song, making it hard to appreciate the rest of the song, which is actually quite good once Iommi takes center stage.

What should have been outtakes follow on the next couple tracks. "All Moving Parts (Stand Still)" is driven by an unimaginative vocal melody from Osbourne, and "Rock 'N' Roll Doctor" sounds more like a Lynyrd Skynyrd reject than anything related to metal.

"She's Gone", featuring an understated acoustic riff and strings, is what "Changes" should have been, and actually isn't that bad. But after that comes "Dirty Women". Why they buried this classic tune at the end of the album I'll never understand. It has a killer heavy riff, great bassline, good use of organ, badass drumming, and a catchy vocal hook--everything you could possibly want.

The Verdict: Technical Ecstasy should never have been a proper studio album. Other than "Back Street Kids", "You Won't Change Me", and "Dirty Women", it comes off as a collection of rarities and B-sides. But it's easy to understand how they got to this point, and it should have been obvious the original lineup wouldn't last long after this point. I give the album 1.5 out of 5 stars.

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