The Importance of Being Metal: Black Sabbath-Sabbath Bloody Sabbath
1973; Clearwell Castle, Gloucestershire, England; Vertigo Records
1. Is It Any Good?
A bunch of people like this album a lot because of how different it is from the rest of Black Sabbath's golden age material, and honestly, to me, the things that make this album different from stuff like Master of Reality and their self-titled debut are also the things that make it kind of lame in a lot of places.
First of all, and this is big, the guitar work on this album is really sloppy when compared to other records. Maybe it's just the fact that I don't have a remastered copy, but my copy of Paranoid is one of those bunk-ass editions that have the "may expose the limitations of analog recording equipment" on the back as well, and it wasn't anywhere near this squeaky. Seriously, at a certain point you're left wondering if Iommi dipped the neck of his guitar in butter while he was in the recording studio, because the chord transitions are extremely obvious and, in some places, very distracting. It's a shame, since Tony Iommi is pretty much a riff genius and the sliding really detracts from some killer hooks.
When there are killer hooks to be had at all, that is. See, for a good portion of this album, Black Sabbath decided to include orchestral arrangements and keyboards because, I dunno, that's what a "serious" band has to do, at some point? The point is, it misses far more than it hits. As a matter of fact, the best track by leaps and bounds, "A National Acrobat", is the only one that's straight-up, no nonsense guitar, bass, drums and vocals. Truthfully, it's a spooky, doomy, haunting song that stands as one of their absolute best on any album.
Likewise, the title track, while very different from the usual Sabbath fare, is a pretty excellent underdog anthem, and "Sabbra Cadabra" might be the only Black Sabbath song you could feasibly dance to-trust me, it actually works. The horns, keyboard and barroom piano all coalesce nicely to make one of their most jumpin' tracks, and it's honestly a lot of fun.
Unfortunately, the rest of the album doesn't hold up nearly so well. "Fluff", while kinda pretty, is precisely what it sounds like-instrumental filler, and besides which, "pretty" probably isn't what you're looking for when you turn on a Black Sabbath record. "Killing Yourself To Live" works in places, but it displays Sabbath's fundamental misunderstanding of what makes for a good psychedelic song(hint-it's not Ozzy randomly proclaiming "Smoke it...GET HIGH!!" during the bridge for no discernible reason), and after a certain point it gets too goofy to really pay much mind to. "Looking For Today" can actually be described as being upbeat, which is basically, like...fuck that completely for a song that shows up on a Black Sabbath album.
None of those songs, though, match the goofy, embarrassing failure of a song that is "Who Are You?" This is the most keyboard heavy song on the album, and to answer your question, no, they are not the tasteful sounding kind of keyboards. They're the "wom-zee-wow-bee-wom-pychuu" kind of keyboards, and they turn what should be a foreboding, ominous dirge into the band's silliest fuckup next to the entirety of Technical Ecstasy. It's not a freethrow that bounces off the rim, it's an attempted dunk that somehow manages to miss the net completely, give you a wedgie and kill your grandparents in midair.
Sabbath Bloody Sabbath has some great moments, but ultimately can't live up to the metalness of the album title or the cover art. Keyboards and strings had worked for Black Sabbath in small doses on earlier albums, but this album proved that the band couldn't structure an entire record around anything outside of their core instruments.
That said, they would keep trying to do so anyway for a few more albums until they imploded and started sucking for the next decade or so. LSD, folks: It fucks with the mind.
2. Is It "Influential"?
A surprising number of people have covered the title track, and like I stated earlier a lot of people seem to like this album for some reason, but their days of being a full-blown inspiration were behind them at this point.
3. Is It A Good Starting Point For Beginners?
A lot of it is listenable, but very few songs on it could be called exemplary and even fewer could be called a good example of the genre, or even a good example of Black Sabbath's style, for that matter. Look elsewhere.