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Technical Ecstasy - Black Sabbath
Member Name: cheffrey
Technical Ecstasy - Black Sabbath
Advantages: There's some brass amongst the muck
Disadvantages: It's fairly underwhleming and underwritten
By 1976, Black Sabbath were struggling, and it was obvious. Perhaps it was the toil of heavy touring schedules, or living up to expectations of fans and dealing with being critically battered (they were never a press favourite), but it's more likely to be the mountains of drugs and lakes of booze that had formed around them. It's pretty rare that a band's creative output can withstand such toxicity, and Black Sabbath were no excpetion.
Their first six albums are huge, monolithic pieces of rock and metal that stand up as some of the best work in the genre, but 'Technical Ecstasy', the penultimate album with Ozzy on vocals really can't be described in the same way. Experimentation and branching into new directions is no bad thing, and can be done successfully as shown on 'Sabbath Bloody Sabbath' and 'Sabotage', but the majority of songs on this record are really underwritten or forgettable, and for quite a lot of it they don't really sound like Black Sabbath. 'Back Street Kids' could easily have been written by Slade, and 'Gypsy' sounds more akin to something that The Who would put on 'Tommy' or 'Quadrophenia'. It's not that they're bad songs as such, just that they don't have the sonic muscle or invention that they had developed over the last few years. 'You Won't Change Me' and 'All Moving Parts' are probably the only tracks on here that can rub shoulders with their stronger material from earlier albums. Even the song titles are a dead giveaway - it's a bit naughty to judge a song by its name but are songs called 'It's Alright', 'She's Gone' and 'Rock n' Roll Doctor' really going to have the same atmosphere and menace as 'Electric Funeral', 'Wheels of Confusion' or 'Megalomania'? Here's a clue - they don't.
Perhaps the first sign of a really big crack in the band is that for the first time, somebody other than Ozzy takes the vocal spot. Bill Ward does a pretty good job on 'It's Alright', which sounds a bit like something the Beatles might have done; in fact Ward sounds quite a lot like Paul McCartney. When described like that it sounds even less fitting for the band, but it's still a better ballad than the bloody awful 'Changes' from Volume IV. 'Rock n' Roll Doctor' is perhaps their most embarrassing song to date - it's a fairly feelgood tune but its lyrics are so lazy and unchallenging I really would expect more from primary lyricist Geezer Butler, who had so evocatively dealt with topics such as madness, substance abuse, alienation and all manner of apocalyptic scenarios of biblical proportions it seems like they can't be bothered any more. 'Dirty Women' is utterly sleazy and is more of a chance for Tony Iommi to show off his axe-work than anything else, and as a piece of fretwork it's quite impressive - along with 'All Moving Parts' is does show the more technically proficient sound he was developing that would turn up on 'Heaven and Hell' and 'Mob Rules'.
This record is often dismissed by fans of Black Sabbath, but I found it not to be a terrible album, just one that doesn't sit easily with their earlier, mightier offerings. It can barely be called heavy metal, it's got too many glam rock and even pop influences in it, and while that's not necessarily a bad thing at all it would have helped if the song-writing had been of the same calibre. In its favour, the band are incredibly tight throughout - the presence of Yes keyboard sorcerer Rick Wakeman on their previous album has clearly had an influence on them, as this record showcases some of their most bizarre and finger-melting time signatures and phrasing of their whole catalogue. It'll certainly quieten anyone who says Sabbath were plodding and incapable of variation.
Not a total disaster then, but certainly not a record that is going to be talked about in the same breath as 'Master of Reality' or 'Paranoid'.
Summary: Not as dreadful as it's made out to be