Graham Reid | | 1 min read
Tall, skinny, not especially attractive and a bundle of emotional problems, Joey Ramone was one the most unlikely icons in rock. He hid behind hair and shades while the turmoil of the warring personalities in the Ramones battered him in ways which we will never fully understand.
Yet it was because of that and his commitment to the cartoon cleverness of their music -- closer to the Bay City Rollers than the Sex Pistols -- that he became such a focal point. And the fact the Ramones were never as huge as they should have been added an extra layer of sadness to his life which ended in 2001, before his 50th birthday.
This is the second installment of posthumous recordings, here given studio overhaul from demos by the likes of Steven Van Zandt, Genya Ravan, Joan Jett and various members of Cheap Trick and the Dictators. The production is by Ed Stasium and others who had worked with the Ramones, and you'd never know it was pieced together after the fact.
The opener Rock'n'Roll is the Answer starts with guitars which may be too rockist for old Ramones fans who prefer their wall of sound, but in sentiment it sets the tone for an album which includes New York City ("I'm proud to make my home in . . ."), Seven Days of Gloom, There's Got to be More to Life, Make Me Tremble and other originals -- includng re-hits at the Ramones' Merry Christmas (slowed down) and Life's a Gas (the latter a sensitive He's So Fine/My Sweet Lord acoustic closer to the album).
All of the Joey hallmarks are here from that slightly damaged yearning (the quiet Waiting for That Railroad which slowly opens out into a Spector-wide country-flavoured ballad) to disciplined power-pop (the rockabilly rock'n'roll of I Couldn't Sleep, the girl-group influenced What Did I Do to Deserve You) and a real chin-up sensibility which hides uncertainty and insecurities (the bristling and fuzzy Seven Days of Gloom).
These songs were apparently written between 1977 and the final year of his life but the consistency of his vision -- he worked a familiar emotional range -- is impressive and although some will miss the full throttle energy of the old band in places, this is the sound of a man who has stepped out from his history and is holding on to just enough of the familiar.
Yes, there are flat spots -- Eyes of Green, 21st Century Girl -- and places where the familiar leans too heavily on templates (the girl group style of Party Line), but it seems a real tragedy this didn't come out in his lifetime when he could have read the critical praise and fans' responses.
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