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Loads of frontmen have had successful solo careers either in addition to their well-known band or independent of it. Whether it’s Mick Jagger or Peter Gabriel, these rock gods achieved fame because of an ability to transfer over their initial appeal while blazing their own unique musical path. For The Ramones’ Joey Ramone, the same can’t be said for his second posthumous solo LP, ”…Ya Know?”, which, despite some appealing cuts, finds him unable to adequately disassociate himself from his punk brethren.
The LP’s better cuts succeed because of how perfectly Ramones-ian they are. For the group’s trademark slacker jam, there’s “Going Nowhere Fast”, which pairs a guitar with the force of an industrial saw and Ramone’s nasal, ambivalent drawl. As the instrument destroys the world around him, Ramone rattles off the ways in which he’s caused his own downfall, never for a moment showing either fear or pride. Switching it up a bit, the band’s romantic—albeit awkward—side is demonstrated in “What Did I Do To Deserve You”. Ramone’s vocals remain almost the same, though a shred of hope shines through thanks to minor harmonies, vintage handclaps, and a guitar that splits the difference between grime and sentimentality.
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“There’s Got To Be More To Life” melds those aesthetics for a truly perfect Ramones dichotomy. The instrumentation is, by far, the album’s sunniest output, with gleeful harmonies squealing and a guitar part that eschews even the slightest bit of filth and irony for the neon-colored embrace of some truly hideous arena-rock pompousness. Yet Ramone swoops into save the day, his voice a perfect blend of worry and doubt, counting all the terrible things in his life (record labels, MTV, etc.) and, in line with his upbringing, hoping there’s more without ever doing anything about it.
As they are, each of those cuts could have been randomly plucked from or inserted into the Ramones’ catalog without anyone knowing the difference either way. Somehow, it feels like a plus to have more Ramones goodness in a world that’s perpetually lacking. However, because of Ramone’s status as the punk king of the Lower East Side, you’d expect a little something more to upset the establishment.
The tracks that fulfill the solo album mandate of seeking new territory present a journey that’s awkward and incomplete. “Eyes of Green” moves into unseen stretches of pub rock-dom, with the usual noise balanced by a jangly keyboard part better suited for Elvis Costello anthems. More depressing, though, is that Ramone’s vocals feel neutered, singing catchy choruses he seemingly hates, with the vitriol apparent with each note.
Posing as a pop singer isn’t as heinous as the crimes committed in “Waiting For That Railroad”, which is dominated by a saccarine acoustic guitar, like someone learning from every country song on the AM dial. Ramone’s vocals take a turn toward the lonesome, but their ache and pain feel forced, expressed in terms Ramone would never create. He’s always been a character, but the portrayal here is as moving as an embarrassing high school play.
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Possibly even more damning than the previous two are instances on the record where Ramone and the album handlers’ dedication to his band takes on a sadomasochistic lean, as if mocking the band with underwhelming renditions of classic tunes. “New York City” takes Ramones simplicity to new echelons of bland, repeating ad nauseam his love for the city to another swelling guitar. The more noticeable doo-wop “Party Line” features ultra bubbly female backing vocals. A seemingly sweet twist to complete the song turns what could have been a quaint step in Ramones history into a total piece of satire, with the joke on the dedicated listener.
Tacked on the end are two songs that transcend both the album’s positives and its overwhelming deficits. “Cabin Fever” is a gem of experimentation, burying Ramone’s vocals under oceans of guitar noise and swagger (the kind of production value/trickery “Party Line” could have used). The reworked “Life’s A Gas” also attempts a quaint, strummy sound, this time pulling it off with a pseudo-calypso vibe.
These numbers are perfect examples of what the record should’ve been filled with: new and exciting songs that aren’t too far removed from the Ramones canon. Instead, we get Ramones re-hashings and efforts better left on the cutting room floor or to be reworked vigorously. While there are moments of punk-ish joy, this is a disappointing continuation of Ramone’s genius.
Essential Tracks: “Going Nowhere Fast”, “There’s Got To Be More To Life”, “Waiting For That Railroad”, and “Cabin Fever”
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