|Joey Ramone believed in the three minute rock 'n' roll song and that's what made the singer-songwriter-punk icon so great, so uniquely authentic. He was a romantic optimist who treasured the multi-leveled universe encompassed in a tune, a handful of chords, and a rhythm section. The leather jacketed voice of The Ramones may have left this world too early, but his spirit lives on in the singular music he helped create.
Ramone's second solo album, coming out May 22, is a collection of songs from the Joey vaults titled ...Ya Know? and it features previously unreleased tracks the singer recorded over the last fifteen years of his life that have been completed with the help of musicians including Joan Jett, Steven Van Zandt, Richie Ramone, members of Cheap Trick and The Dictators and Joey's brother Mickey Leigh, as well as producers Ed Stasium and Jean Beauvoir. Two of the songs here, "Merry Christmas Baby (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight)" and "Life's a Gas" are re-recordings of songs put out by The Ramones.
Opening with a true statement of purpose and what might be considered Ramone's personal philosophy, "Rock 'n' Roll is The Answer" is an instant classic and its as good or better than any late period Ramones track. Joey Ramone is the voice of a frustrated sensitive shy, but hopeful youth who's only source of comfort is the radio and his record collection. The songs he hears booming back at him are the love songs of Phil Spector's girl groups and Brian Wilson's lonely tenderness symphonies all sandwiched between The Stooges wild fucked up disaffection. These sounds and more were internalized and mixed in Ramone's heart of hearts enabling him to compress nuggets of truth down to less than three minutes of simple plain speaking verse/chorus/verse structures - in other words classic pop with raging guitars. He instinctively understood the poetry of teenage lust and rebellion. When The Ramones covered Tom Waits' "I Don't Want to Grow Up" on their last studio album Adios Amigos, it was a perfect pairing of singer and song because Joey never did grow up.
...Ya Know? is a very good album for simple fact that Joey Ramone could do no wrong in the vocal booth. His delivery of direct lyrical concepts and melodies hit all the right notes despite the grab bag nature of posthumous albums like this one. Does it need to feature different takes of two Ramones songs? No, probably not, but they're fun to listen to nonetheless. The real treats are the thirteen other songs which range from punk-pop style thrashers (invented by The Ramones?) to the ballad & bubblegum songs that only Joey Ramone could pull off. Along with "Rock 'n' Roll is The Answer," "21st Century Girl," "Going Nowhere Fast," and "Seven Days of Gloom" have the kind of heavy guitar mixed with memorable singsongy hum-ables that listeners will find irresistible (this writer included). "Make Me Tremble" is on the cheese side of vaguely "island" breeze (pan flute?) and one of the only missteps on this album. While "Party Line" is a gorgeous song backed by classic wall of sound production and Steven Van Zandt's guitar work. ...Ya Know? kind of reminds me of The Ramones circa End of the Century and Pleasant Dreams, which may give some fans pause, but not me - I love those records.
Joey Ramone was the heart of one of the greatest bands of all time and his unimpeachable integrity as a singer and songwriter permeates ...Ya Know?. This album is by no means a compilation for casual fans of the "hey ho! let's go!," but geared more for those who love and identify with the humanity in the voice of Joey Ramone...you know?