October 3, 2018 | by James Greene, Jr.
If Technical Ecstasy had been Black Sabbath’s debut offering it might today be considered an underrated missing link fusing traditional hard rock, glam, and punk. Unfortunately this isn’t the first Sabbath from 1970, it’s their seventh from 1976, coming after numerous monolithic entries that continue to define heavy metal. The group was fraying from the requisite kind of hells a rock band faces this deep into their career — management woes, artistic differences, changing times. Would you believe invoices for illicit substances were just as high as those for recording?
And so the fighting and the drugs and the trying to compete with ELO made Black Sabbath corny, which is the worst accusation you can level at Technical Ecstasy. Critics made similar claims against the Ebersol years of “Saturday Night Live,” but we’ve all chuckled at Rich Hall, the Technical Ecstasy of comedians.
Ozzy Osbourne declares on the album’s opening cut that he is, in fact, a “back street kid,” a “rock ‘n’ roll soldier” who knows nobody “is gonna take my rock ‘n’ roll away from me.” Dumb, but no more so than Dictators singer Handsome Dick Manitoba informing us he “lives for cars and girls” a year earlier on Go Girl Crazy!. At least “Back Street Kids” retains that trademark Sabbath menace in its lurching riffs and rhythmic turns. Same goes for “Gypsy,” which is about a “gypsy woman… as cold as the day, yeah,” and “All Moving Parts (Stand Still),” the tale of a gender-bending presidential candidate who “gets his kicks from licking off the wine.”
“You Won’t Change Me” raises an interesting debate. Is it deeply ironic for Ozzy to sing this defiant screed or is it merely coincidental? Osbourne quit Black Sabbath after the Technical Ecstasy tour only to come back for 1978’s Never Say Die! and quit again. Ultimately, was he correct? Did Sabbath not change Ozzy? Either way, the light doom that makes up “You Won’t Change Me” is more appealing than the shameless Beatling of “It’s Alright” or the dry KISS wind-breaking of “Rock ’N’ Roll Doctor.”
Technical Ecstasy definitely isn’t Master of Reality, but it is more robust, classic, and satisfying than Never Say Die!, the hauntingly average final yawn recorded by Black Sabbath’s original lineup. A grudge must also be held against Never Say Die! because the album’s one purely brilliant cut — the rousing call-to-arms title track that suggests closure while fearlessly looking ahead toward the unknown — would have been the perfect coda for the album (and this chapter in music history). Instead, “Never Say Die!” is the very first song on Never Say Die!. Maybe they were purposely trying to subvert our expectations. Maybe they were just on too many horse pills.
By the way, Technical Ecstasy’s retro future cover drawing was conceived by the art collective Hipgnosis, who also designed for T. Rex, Led Zeppelin, Gravy Train, Fumble, Blue Mink, 10cc, Wings, UFO, Bad Company, Babe Ruth (the band, not the baseball player), and Humble Pie. They also did several Pink Floyd covers, including Dark Side of the Moon, but please, don’t overlook the stunning work they turned in for both Toe Fat records or Product by Brand X.
Listen to Technical Ecstacy: