'Technical Ecstasy' - Black Sabbath (5/10)
Wow. In spite of the poor acclaim and ambivalence I have seen aimed towards "Technical Ecstasy" and her equally unappealing sister "Never Say Die!", I was still a little shocked to hear the great Black Sabbath default on such mediocrity. Although I may have preferred "Paranoid" and "Sabotage" over the rest, there was no denying that the first six albums of this band were something to behold; it was if the band could do no wrong. As would be the case with a little band called Metallica almost three decades later with "St. Anger", the arguments and duress would lead to a decidedly sub-effort from the band. Sabbath have not completely festered here, but considering how great they were before this, there's no way to feel satisfied with this.
It's not often that fans are so united in their disappointment for a band and album. It seems like everyone plus their mothers, mailmen, and neighbourhood general practitioners can agree that "Technical Ecstasy" was a slip-up. In short, the band's style is once again robbed of its metal crunch. Unlike "Volume Four" however- which traded heaviness in exchange for sophistication- "Technical Ecstasy" comes up without any benefit, as were it an old lady whose handbag was stolen by a street vagabond. Sabbath's musical tightness pulls the album through, but at the end of the day, hearing the almighty Black Sabbath resort to generally bland rock music is a tough experience.
All disappoints aside, "Technical Ecstasy" is not necessarily a 'bad' album. In fact, it appears to be a victim of circumstance. Perhaps if listeners had not become used to Sabbath churning out record after record of inspired excellence, this album would not be looked down upon. Regardless, through the sea of mediocrity defined by songs like "Backstreet Kids" and "Rock N Roll Doctor", there are a handful of songs that distinguish themselves, for better or worse. "You Won't Change Me" is a great seven minute track with some great blues soloing from Iommi, and a piano progression reminiscent of The Beatles' "Abbey Road". "She's Gone" is nothing compared to some of the band's earlier ballads, but Ozzy Osbourne's passionate vocal performance and a lush string arrangement makes it stand out from the monotony.
On the other side of the spectrum, we have "It's Alright", sung by drummer Bill Ward. Frankly, it really isn't 'alright', in fact, it's arguably the worst track Sabbath had ever done up to this point. Disregarding Ward's tonedeaf voice, the ballad is saccharine enough to put a child off sugar for life. Considering that this is the band that once rocked our balls off with some of the most influential heavy metal ever made, it's a long ways to fall.
For the most part, "Technical Ecstasy" is fairly harmless. Besides "It's Alright", it's even listenable. The songwriting runs flat, but Black Sabbath retain enough of their progressive elements to give the listener a surprise, if only occasionally. Taken out of context, "Technical Ecstasy" is a run-of-the-mill, albeit inconsistent hard rock album. For those- like me- who are infatuated with the band's six album winning streak, it may be a good idea to save hurt feelings and skip right to "Heaven And Hell".