REVIEW: Bill Ward – When the Bough Breaks (1997)

BILL WARD – When the Bough Breaks (1997 Purple Pyramid)

If anybody in Black Sabbath is an under-sung genius, it must be poor Bill Ward, the drummer on the outs with the legendary band.  Not only did he release the cult classic Ward One: Along the Way, but also its lesser known followup When the Bough Breaks.  Much more than just a drummer, Ward writes music and lyrics.  He also sings lead on every song, unlike its guest-laden predecessor.  What he didn’t do on When the Bough Breaks was plays drums — at all.  Maybe there is something to this talk from Ozzy about Bill not being able to hack it?

Folks who know little about Bill or Sabbath usually assume it’s all doom and gloom.  Track 1’s song title is “Hate”, but fear not, Bill has not changed his tune.  Hate is the easy way, not the right way, is the message.  Meanwhile there’s a cool sax lick and chunky guitar, and I swear that Bill must have arranged the drum parts because even though it’s not him, it sounds like him.  Ronnie Ciago does a fine job on the skins, all over the album.  Then, “Children Killing Children” is clumsy lyrically, but backed by lovely music and a heartfelt vocal performance.  A pretty ballad with mandolin, dobro, cello and violins is not what many would expect, but When the Bought Breaks is a mellow listen as a whole, and it can’t be pigeon-holed.

“Growth” maintains the soft trend, but it also cascades into massive waves.  Bill sings with a high, whispery quavering voice.  It lends itself best to quiet drama, interspersed with maniacally heavy rock.  That’s what “Growth” is, with a progressive bent and female backing singers.  It seems to form part of a suite, “When I Was a Child” emerging directly from it.  Though the title misleads, this is actually one of the heaviest tracks — a sludgy heavy metal blues born from the steel mills of Birmingham.  The childhood theme is continued with “Please Help Mommy (She’s a Junkie)”.  It also continues the blues with swampy dobro…before it transforms in a space age gospel-soul-metal slam dance.  It has a hell of a lot more life and rock and roll than anything Ozzy’s produced since then.  The sludge remains on “Shine” which I like to think of as ending a side.  Oddball Bill rock is the best way to describe it.

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“Step Lightly” has a soft touch to it but the heavy guitars leave no doubt.  A potent mixture of influences and genres, “Step Lightly” defies categorization except to say it’s rock, but it’s a lot of things.  “Love and Innocence” is a strange name to a brief percussion instrumental, and it’s an intro to the song “Animals”.  A drummer’s wet dream, “Animals” is a heavy percussion blast with less emphasis on guitar.  A fine song, “Animals” is only hampered by a weird tribal-y front section.  “Nighthawks Stars and Bars” commences as we wind down.  This beautiful song feels like dusk, serenaded by saxophone.  Bill wrote a lovely soul ballad here, and the ladies singing on it are incredible.  “Try Life” is Floyd meets Lennon with a teeny tiny sprinkle of Sabbath, creating a light concoction of classy progressive rock balladry.

One last epic, the slow building title track (almost 10 minutes) leaves no doubt in mind that Bill Ward is a unique talent.  Of all the Sabbath solo records, Bill’s have been the most ambitious.   They’ve also been the fewest.  Bill’s long awaited Beyond Aston has no release date, but another solo album called Accountable Beasts was finally released in 2015.   Meanwhile, of Beyond Aston, Bill says it’s his best since Master of Reality in 1971!

Of When the Bough Breaks, I can only close with this.  It takes time.  It takes a lot of listening time invested, to pay back its full dividends.  When it does, you’ll be glad you bought it.  Of note however, there are multiple pressings and the one I have has liner notes and lyrics so tiny, that I fear I might irreparably damage my own eyes if I try to read them.

4.5/5 stars

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16 comments

  1. I did not know this even existed! I love albums that take some time to get to know. Sometimes it doesn’t pay off, and you wonder why you spent so much time trying to get into it. But other times, like this one, you are well rewarded (and with a 4.5/5!).

    Also interesting that an album by a man known for his drumming contains no drumming by him! Not just a one-trick pony!

    As for the tiny words, if you really waned to read them, I suppose you could take a pic of them and then blow that up on your screen. Might work!

    Real cool review.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It really wasn’t until I tackled the eight Ozzy studio releases to realize how big of a clog Ward is and was in the Sabbath machine! Wowzers his drumming is off the charts case in point his Satan Swing Shuffle Style on the studio version of the song Never Say Die is soooooo FUCKIN GOOOOOOD!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is a great write-up, Mike. A very interesting album by the sounds of it. Ward’s confidence in the strength of the songs is quite something if he decided not to play, huh?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey thanks J! Yes I think the confidence he has in the songs comes across in his interviews as well. He spends years meticulously writing…I’m sure it’s harder for a drummer to do that.

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      1. I would expect so. Being drummers, they also have to win folks over. Cause I don’t reckon too many folks think of drummers being songwriters. Unless it’s Grohl (I know you like him, but he’s nowhere near the best – in terms of drumming chops and songwriting).

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Very good point, Mike. Any time I hear Foo Fighters I pick up In Utero and it’s all okay. Ha!

          His work with Josh Homme is tremendous too, of course!

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