Bill Ward – Ward One: Along The Way
This past Sunday I went to a Flea Market and found a guy selling a bunch of metal and hard rock CDs, most of which were from the late 80′s/early 90′s. They were 2 bucks each or 3 for $5 so being no fool, I went for the 3 for $5 deal. I spent 30 bucks! No fool, yeah, right. I only listened to a few so far. I picked up CDs by Riot, Savatage, Child’s Play, Baton Rouge, Witchery, Gypsy Rose, and several others. In the stack was Bill Ward’s Ward One: Along The Way.
I am a Black Sabbath fan. I’m not just an Ozzy-years fan or a Dio-era fan, or a Tony Martin fan – if there is such a thing – I like the whole output of the band for the most part. There are some great albums without Ozzy or Dio singing like Headless Cross, Eternal Idol, Born Again, and Cross Purposes. As long as Tony Iommi was writing the riffs, the albums were usually good and I think Tony Martin did a great job handling the Dio & Ozzy era material in concert. Bill Ward is a big factor in my appreciation of Black Sabbath. His drumming was very jazzy. Even though Black Sabbath was the original doom and gloom band, many of the fast passages had really swinging drum patterns. Some songs like “Children Of The Grave” have a swinging tempo and Ward’s drumming drives the song. He was inventive and put a lot of thought into his parts. He wasn’t content to be a snare/hi-hat drummer. He used a wide palette of drum tones and kept things interesting. Still, I had no high hopes for Ward One. In fact, I remember thinking when it came out in 1990 that despite appearances by Ozzy & Jack Bruce it couldn’t possibly be good. I stand by that thought.
Albums by drummers are often suspect unless by jazz or fusion artists like Art Blakey or Billy Cobham for instance. Phil Collins and Don Henley were both vocalists and songwriters as well as drummers and as such had an identifiable sound and style to carry a solo album. As Bill Ward showed on Sabbath albums Technical Ecstasy and Never Say Die, he shouldn’t sing. And although he appears in the writing credits on Sabbath albums, he really has never been a songwriter. Iommi wrote the riffs, Ozzy came up with a melody, Geezer Butler wrote the lyrics and Ward came up with drum patterns. Drum patterns can make or break a song but rarely form the basis for a memorable tune.
A lack of memorable tunes plagues Ward One: Along The Way. The songs seem like experiments in soundscapes more so than actual attempts at writing songs. The muddy production doesn’t help either. It seems like there is an abundance of synthesizer/keyboard noise or accents everywhere and the vocals are highly processed even on the Ozzy and Jack Bruce tracks. Jack Bruce’s talents are horribly wasted on this album. Jack Bruce and Bill Ward could have done some stupefying bass & drum jamming that would have made this album worthwhile but instead they concocted some ridiculous ethereal pastiche of bloated psychedelic electronica underscored with metal riffery buried in the mix, almost too embarrassed to be heard. Jack Bruce’s voice is almost unidentifiable. He probably wanted it that way. Bill Ward must have some good dirt on ol’ Jackie to get him to lower his musical standards this way. It’s tragic.
There are 30 musicians listed on the back. That may account for the listless, directionless music contained within. 30 people mucking about with songs and sounds will not result in a cohesive, clear musical statement. Then again maybe they really wanted to sound like a heavy version of a really shitty Pink Floyd Ummagumma cover band. Ward actually takes credit for the lyrics and musical arrangement in the liner notes, so no matter what this fiasco is his fault. It’s his fault anyway since it bears his moniker, but if it was a bunch of lousy pop music it might be possible to blame the record company for pushing that direction but no record exec wanted this. I may have found the only copy sold.
I’m a bit of a completist when it comes to bands I really like so I’ll probably keep it. I have most of the peripheral Black Sabbath albums like Tony Iommi’s solo albums, G/Z/R, Ozzy, Dio etc. Now I have this magnificent piece of junk to put on the shelf next to masterpieces like Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and Heaven And Hell. It will keep those records grounded. They could have sucked this much too. I’m glad I passed on this all those years ago. At the time I probably would have yanked it out of the player and threw it out the window. I’m older now and I don’t litter.