Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Black Sabbath
Technical Ecstasy


Released 1976 on Warner Brothers
Reviewed by Joe Kenney, 25/08/2004ce


It’s a lazy evening in 1976 and you’re relaxing in a worn-down lawn chair on your front porch. Your grandfather sits across from you, puffing on a pipe. You’re thrust out of your dope-addled reverie when he says something very strange:

“When do you think those Black Sabbath fuckers are gonna release a REAL rock album?”

“Huh?” You ask.

Your grandfather elaborates. “I know they’re heavy. Good beats, good grooves. Great fucking guitar. But seriously. What do they sing about? Demons and the devil and shit. That ain’t rock and roll. Rock and roll’s about fucking, and women, and drugs. I mean, look at the names of their songs. ‘NIB,’ what the hell does THAT stand for? ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath?’ That don’t sound like no rock song I ever heard! Shit. REAL rock songs should have names like ‘Rock N Roll Doctor’ and ‘Dirty Women.’ That last one ain’t that bad of a name, come to think of it.”

So it is with shock that you discover, the following week, that the songs on Black Sabbath’s new album, Technical Ecstasy, have the same titles your grandfather expected of a “real” rock group. You’re probably more shocked to discover that, like most other “real” rock albums of the mid-to-late 1970s, Technical Ecstasy is mostly just a big pile of steaming shit.

Now, I can respect the fact that Sabbath attempted something different, dropping the “evil” content matter, going for more everyday topics, toning down the metal, and generally just attempting to appeal to a wider audience. This is much like what they attempted on Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and Sabotage, but the thing is, both those albums at least still SOUNDED like Black Sabbath. Technical Ecstasy sounds more like KISS. Seriously. You could easily picture Paul Stanley’s vocals on “Back Street Kids,” Gene Simmons getting all demonic on “Rock ‘N’ Roll Doctor,” and Peter Criss rasping out “It’s Alright.” Hell, you could even throw Ace Frehley a bone and give him the vocals to “Dirty Women.”

“Back Street Kids” gets things started with a nice riff, but instantly we notice that Iommi’s guitar is missing the bite we’ve grown accustomed to. Production-wise, everything sounds fine, but this isn’t the Sabbath we know and love. Then it gets really weird when the middle half of the song kicks in with keyboards in full effect, and it all sounds like KISS meets Kansas. So already we’re off to a bad start. The saddest part is that this is one of the better tracks on the album.

“You Won’t Change Me” could be straight off a solo Ozzy album. Iommi’s guitar playing is great throughout this whole album, but here he lights the “metal ballad axe wielder” within, and fills the track with all sorts of licks. To tell the truth, this song isn’t bad, if metal ballads are your bag. Keyboards are again in use, playing a lazy, depressed counter-melody to the guitar wizardry.

The third track is Bill Ward’s “It’s Alright.” Two things become clear about this song: 1.) Bill Ward is actually a pretty good singer, and 2.) The song isn’t that bad. But is it Sabbath? Unquestionably not. It’s like something you’d come across on the umpteen million Beatle-wannabe records that littered the discount bins of record stores throughout the 1970s. But still, I’d take this song over drek like “Changes” and “Who Are You” any day of the week. This is probably my favorite song on the record, which is funny when you consider that it’s the furthest from the Sabbath spectrum you can get.

“Gypsy” follows, and it’s often considered one of the better tracks on the record. It’s more Sabbath sounding than the preceding songs, at least. This is one of the few Technical Ecstasy songs that made it onto Sabbath’s setlist, and freed from its studio trappings, it sounded much better live, just raw and metallic. Here Ozzy’s vocals are in fine form, with Iommi again doling out all sorts of licks that no doubt had audience members holding aloft their cigarette lighters.

Thankfully, we’ve made it to the second side! It’s almost over! “All Moving Parts (Stand Still)” opens the side, and proceeds to go nowhere for five minutes. Sabbath’s attempting to make it funky, but they fail. I mean, they’d already nailed the funk on earlier songs, like “The Wizard” and “Wicked World.” Even “National Acrobat,” for all its overproduction, was funkier than this. But anyway, to continue bashing this song, it just sounds to me like Ozzy’s vocals are totally unconnected to what’s going on with the band; it’s like he just walked in on a jam session, came up with some lines off the top of his head, and they cut it.

“Rock ‘N’ Roll Doctor” leers its ugly head next, beating you senseless with its tedium for almost four minutes. But how can I hate a track that has so much cowbell? Bill Ward beats his cowbell senseless for the duration of this song, God bless him. But this is just basic 1976 cock rock, nothing more. It’s as simple as you can get, Black Sabbath impersonating KISS. Though I really wouldn’t mind hearing Gene Simmons sing this one. He could even spit out blood after the “he’s gonna blow you away” line!!

“She’s Gone” follows, and I usually have a hard time staying awake throughout its five minute running time. Again we’re into solo Ozzy territory. This one’s a weeper, with all the strings, acoustic guitar, and mellow keyboards that would entail. Bill Ward’s drumming is absent, so the track just floats along on its own crapulence. Hit the forward button, let’s get out of here!

Ah, the last song on the record. “Dirty Women” is for sure the most Sabbath of all these tracks, and it’s a good one, to boot. This is another that made it onto the tours that followed, as well as being resurrected for the Reunion album in 1998. Again, Ozzy sings about the typically-mundane “rock” topics, but the music is very much in the normal Sabbath domain, even employing multiple sections and a blazing finale. It’s no “The Writ” or “Into the Void,” but it’ll do.

I guess if I HAD to pick, I’d rather listen to this than Never Say Die, which, unbelievably, delved to even greater depths of mediocrity. But still, this is one lame album. Even Rhino’s phenomenal remastering job (I HIGHLY recommend all Sabbath fans to pick up the 2004 Rhino “Black Box” Sabbath boxset, as they’ve made all 8 of the Ozzy-era albums sound pristine) can’t save it.

In the end, it’s just sad. Makes you wish Sabbath had broken up after Sabotage. But at least Technical Ecstasy and Never Say Die can’t dilute the impact of the previous six Sabbath albums.


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