The High Points: Never Say Die, Junior’s Eyes, Air Dance
The Low Points: Hard Road, Breakout, Swinging the Chain
The Verdict: Not great,but better than you’ve been led to believe.
The Rating: 6/10
It’d been coming for awhile, but Ozzy got the boot at the end of the Technical Ecstasy tour. Rampant alcoholism seemed to be the prime culprit, and the Ozzman was becoming completely unreliable and impossible to work with… apparently they had to hire a guy to keep him from wandering off and make sure he actually showed up for gigs. In a panic, the band hired Dave Walker, late of Fleetwood Mac to come in and fill the role.
It wasn’t a stunning success… the songwriting sessions for the next album didn’t go well, and the one televised live performance will tell you all you need to know if you wanna get on youtube and find the wretched thing. But with studio time looming there seemed no alternative to soldiering forward… until Ozzy called at the 11th hour and asked to come back.
So here you have a heavily demoralized band dealing with plunging record sales, the aftermath of a series of lawsuits, and a singer who hadn’t been in on the writing sessions… and refused to sing on any of the stuff they had written with Walker. Not the best environment to get the ol’ creative juices flowing. With their backs against the wall and a looming deadline, they booked time during the day in a theater near the recording studio in which they were laying tracks. By day they’d go down to the theater and write songs… and freeze their asses off. It was winter, it was cold, and the theater’s heat wasn’t working properly. At night they’d go in and record whatever they had written that day. The results were somewhat mixed… but better than they had any right to be.
This album gets dissed more than probably any other Sabbath record… but it’s by no means the worst thing they ever did. The band would disagree; they all hate the record. Iommi has called it the one album he’s not proud of, and Ozzy has referred to it as “the worst piece of shit I was ever on”. Sorry, Oz… I’ll take this over 80% of your overrated solo career (erects flame shield). The truth is there’s actually a lot of good music here.
The title track, for one thing. It’s a short commercial rocker, but it’s a GOOD short commercial rocker. It doesn’t sound much like Sabbath, but really neither does anything else on this platter so whatever. It’s a cool song with some tasteful instrumentation; I particularly like the little guitar lines between the vocals during the chorus. Junior’s Eyes is one they snuck past Ozzy; they wrote it with Walker. You can hear it in that context on youtube… and say a grateful prayer that Walker never actually appeared on a Sabbath record. Butler re-wrote the lyrics entirely, making the new version about the death of Ozzy’s father. It’s a really cool track with a great bassline and a kick-ass vocal melody. Over to You is awash in keyboard courtesy of Don Airey… as is much of the rest of the album. Woodruffe split for another gig rather than wait for the band to get it’s shit together during the lead singer problems, and Airey was hired to do Never Say Die. He plays great over the whole thing. Anyway, Over to You rocks in places, is lush and balladesque in others, and is full of longing. Very nice indeed. Also check out the weird but interesting rocker Johnny Blade.
Air Dance is a track that really stands out. It’s a piano-driven ballad that’s completely different from anything Sabbath has ever done, and it totally works. Dig the lovely guitar harmonies in the intro, showcasing a tool that Iommi rarely pulls out of his toolbox. Lovely in every respect.
There’s a fair amount of shit here as well. Hard Road is a really bad example of what I like to (very derisively) call Bouncy Rock. Did I mention I’m kind of a metal guy? Breakout is one of those WTF were they thinking moments; a really bad horn-driven jazz number. Barf. Swinging the Chain is a sludgy sort of… well fuck, I’m not sure how to even describe it. Except that it sucks. It features lyrics and vocals by Bill Ward who really oughtta just stick to bashing the skins. Shock Wave is inoffensive but boring hard rock, but one of the few tracks that ever made it into the live show.
The production is awful; limp, dull sounds. Iommi’s guitar in particular has this atrocious buzzsaw sound like a bunch of pissed off bees. Jesus. The performances aren’t much better; nobody at all sounds inspired here. When the keyboard player on a Sabbath record turns in the best performance out of anybody that really tells you all you need to know.
All the same… there are a lot of good songs here. Like Technical Ecstasy this would have served better as an EP than a full album, but it would have been a damned good EP. And besides, the title track might just be the best pick to introduce Sabbath to your pop-rock loving friends.