Review by Leo Charlton
Before you continue, a short declaration must be made: For anyone who doesn’t know the Ramones or their music, stop reading now. Seriously. Go and buy their discography and spend some time getting lost in their music. Then, once you’ve had a lie down and your head is clear, you may return.
Christened the first punk rock band, the Ramones were a major influence on the punk movements both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. And, seeing as how punk influenced grunge, and grunge was an alternative genre, and alternative…well, the long and short of it is that they’ve pretty much had an influence on modern rock music in general.
It’s easy to get bogged down in the past, and easier still to romanticize it. What’s done is done. And what’s here now is a new Joey Ramone album, the posthumous …Ya Know?, that consists of thirteen previously unreleased tracks as well as two re-recordings of original Ramones songs. It’s been ten years since the Ramones frontman’s first solo album was released, and the inevitable question that looms like a black cloud over this one is: Does this bring anything new to the table, or is it just one for the completists?
The answer is, not surprisingly, a bit of both. Opening track ‘Rock ‘n Roll Is The Answer’ shows that the old influences, the New York Dolls and The Rolling Stones, are still ever-present, with its power chord riff, polished backing vocals and even a guitar solo (what?!) adding a gleam that was rarely used in the Ramones days – not that it needed it. Whilst the riff is trashy and the song gloriously throwaway, the repeated title vocal hook is used so often that it’s almost as though Joey is trying to convince himself that it’s true. He may have to try a little harder to persuade his audience.
‘Going Nowhere Fast’ opens with a fat chord progression that promises a lot but delivers very little. The liberal use of ‘baby’ in the lyrics becomes grating after a while, and is unfortunately used as a ‘can’t-think-of-another-word-so…’ option in many of the songs to follow. Whilst a little more depth to the lyrics wouldn’t go amiss, it could be argued (enitrely reasonably) that Joey Ramone’s music was never so much about the lyrics as it was the raw energy. That may be true, but when you rhyme ‘baby’ with ‘crazy’, there’s going to be a raised eyebrow.
Whilst there is some dirge to wade through (‘New York City’, ‘Seven Days Of Gloom’) along with a few mediocrities (‘What Did I Do To Deserve You?’, ‘There’s Got To Be More To Life’), the diamonds in the rough are worth the visit. ‘Waiting For That Railroad’ is a country-rock song in essence – complete with a few key changes – that shows Ramones’ songwriting prowess, whilst ‘I Couldn’t Sleep’ is a 50’s rock ‘n roll track that would have made The King himself proud had it contained a few more stop-time moments (and not so much dirty rock guitar). ‘21st Century Girl’ is a sublimely trashy rock song that sees Joan Jett supply guitars and vocal support, and the chords to ‘Party Line’ are a variation of those used in the classic ‘Stand By Me’ by Ben E. King, that provide a welcome change of pace. But the track that knocks the others way, way out of the park is ‘Cabin Fever’, a densely layered, overdriven rocker that is equal parts dark and foreboding. It may be essentially one repeated hook…but boy, is it a hell of a hook.
To appreciate this collection with honesty, one must be aware of what it is. It is not an album that intends to change the world, nor is it one with any kind of mission statement. It is a collection of songs for fans, one that was compiled because Joey Ramone never had the opportunity to do it himself. Whilst it won’t win over the naysayers, what it does is continue the legacy of one of rock’s finest frontmen.
Recommended: Waiting For That Railroad // I Couldn’t Sleep // Party Line // 21st Century Girl // Cabin Fever
Review by Leo Charlton