http://assets-s3.rollingstone.com/assets/images/album_review/b90311de7c86ed4dbc669690ae0efeb089e0d399.jpg Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath

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September 17, 1970

Mediocrity doesn't tutor greatness often — when it is influential at all, its progeny usually achieve even ranker nadirs. But in rock, one of whose founding principles is that glorious mistakes can open out into amazing new styles, anything can happen. Thus the Cream phenomenon, which is far from dead even now. Although they were essentially an egotistical group of lazy artisans who ified their considerable talents by swallowing their own hype, raking in fistfulls of cash and flying by the unflattering light of day, they left a whole raft of studious imitators who are setting sail, visions of superstardom dancing in their heads, to this day.

Gun and Black Sabbath are two recent additions to the troops, both from England, and they well typify the paradoxes and possibilities inherent in serving time in such a school. This is Gun's second album, a distinct improvement over the first, but it still suffers by the familiarity of its derivation. The leads are always powerful, often overdubbed to escape the limitations of the trio format, sounding at times as if lead guitarist Adrian Curtis has taken several Clapton riffs and set them whirling around each other — compelling, but not quite new.

It's no accident that the best tracks are at least partially acoustic. "Oh, Lady You," for instance, is a tender ballad of extreme simplicity, rather like the Beatles' "Long Long Long." In another refreshing touch, the song is bounded by two short uptempo flamenco bridges that are just sanguinely appropriate.

But the real standout here is "Angeline," a sorrowful ballad with strings and some beautifully melancholy piano work that sounds like the cat had been listening hard to old masters like "Las Vegas Tango" on the great long-lost Individualism of Gil Evans album. The lyrics are especially poignant, handling the touchy subject of a "straight" individual combing the underground in an anguished search for the girl he loves: "Look at you/What a state you're in/What you been doing? / Where's that place you've been?" Not until the end of the song do you realize that the man is not a lover but the father of the girl he's seeking, pleading to another young runaway as if she were his own daughter. The theme could easily be used for a snide put-down of the old folks, but the maturity of the handling here reveals Gun to have musical invention and lyrical insight only beginning to emerge.

Over across the tracks in the industrial side of Cream country lie unskilled laborers like Black Sabbath, which was hyped as a rockin' ritual celebration of the Satanic mass or some such claptrap, something like England's answer to Coven. Well, they're not that bad, but that's about all the credit you can give them. The whole album is a shuck — despite the murky songtitles and some inane lyrics that sound like Vanilla Fudge paying doggerel tribute to Aleister Crowley, the album has nothing to do with spiritualism, the occult, or anything much except stiff recitations of Cream clichés that sound like the musicians learned them out of a book, grinding on and on with dogged persistence. Vocals are sparse, most of the album being filled with plodding bass lines over which the lead guitar dribbles wooden Claptonisms from the master's tiredest Cream days. They even have discordant jams with bass and guitar reeling like velocitized speedfreaks all over each other's musical perimeters yet never quite finding synch — just like Cream! But worse.

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