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Classic Albums remastered, reissued and revisited

The Ramones: The Final Years Reissued Review

by Anthony Kuzminski

Nothing ever seems to turn out right
-"I Don't Want To Grow Up" from the 1995 album "Adios Amigos" 

If The Ramones were a 19th Century painter, they would have been Vincent Van Gogh. During Van Gogh's life he was eternally linked with failure; only after his death in 1890 did he achieve great acclaim. The Ramones are credited today with being the godfathers of the punk movement of the 1970's and everyone claims to adore and revere them, however, one would never be able to tell by their record sales. Last year when I saw Green Day in concert, their pre-set music included a number of Ramones hits and right before the lights dimmed, 12,000 fans were already in a frenzied state yelling "Hey, Ho….Let's Go" before one note has been performed. All I could think of is how sad it was that Dee Dee, Johnny and Joey were not alive to see it. Science says that Dee Dee died of an overdose and Johnny and Joey died of cancer, but I believe they died of broken hearts. Here was a band that for twenty-years influenced more acts than just about any other band from the punk genre, yet they never had a gold record to show for it. Despite never winning the lottery, The Ramones were among the most dedicated and unfailing acts of their generation; releasing album after album and touring year after year. 

Most people focus on the early Ramones albums as their masterpieces ("Ramones", "Leave Home", "Rocket To Russia & "Road To Ruin"). These albums are arguably four of the most essential punk albums to own, however, the band's next four albums ("End of the Century", "Pleasant Dreams", "Subterranean Jungle" and "Too Tough To Die" ) bridged no nonsense fifties rock which was melded with a pop-punk modern sound a decade before Green Day would release their debut album. Even though they drew their inspiration from the musical acts of the past, they were consistently always ahead of the commercial curve and way ahead of their time. 

Sadly, the final chapter of Ramones albums gets sadly overlooked and unrecognized. By this time, new albums were released merely as an incentive to tour extensively. With the grunge implosion of the early 90's, one hoped that all of the kids rushing to record stores buying albums by Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam and Nirvana would have traded a flannel or two for some Ramones albums, yet still, success eluded them even though these alternative bands all pointed to the Ramones as a vital influence. Regardless of never reaching the top of the heap, the band remained, both on stage and in the studio, incredibly relevant. This constancy was best documented in 2003's "End of the Century-The Story of The Ramones". Every artist who was interviewed spoke of how the band appeared to be timeless as their performances in the 1990's appeared to be taken from a page from the 70's. The force, vivacity, preservation and spirit of the punk attitude was alive and well with each passing year as the band performed each and every show as if it was going to be their last. 

Recently, Captain Oi Records, out of the UK, took up the task of remastering the bands final four albums (with bonus tracks) to ensure the legacy of the band's final years is not forgotten. 

Brian Drain (1989) 
Aside from "Mania", this was the first Ramones album I ever bought. Ironically, I still listen to it today and wore the cassette out when I had it. Jean Beauvoir took the reins at the producing desk forging an album by adding a punch of guitars to the mix as this album harkens back to their roots more so than any other album they had recorded ten years prior. The album has a number of classic tracks- "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want To Fight)" is a landmark tune that I saw Steve Van Zandt perform live a few years back in honor of The Ramones. "Pet Sematary" was written for the film of the same name and is one of the band's most recognizable songs. This reissue contains a different remix of the song which excludes the keyboards and focuses heavily on the guitars. Both versions are great and it's nice to have them both represented on this reissue. The Ramones have always been known for great covers and "Palisades Park" is yet another one they make their own. This would sadly be the last album Dee Dee Ramone would appear on, even though he received songwriting credits on future Ramones albums. 
Album Grade: B+
Standout Tracks: "Pet Sematary", "Palisades Park", "All Screwed Up", "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want To Fight)", "I Believe In Miracles", "Come Back, Baby" 
Bonus Track: Pet Semetary (Bill Laswell Version) 
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Mondo Bizarro (1992)
My least favorite of all Ramones albums is their first without Dee Dee. "Censors***" seemed weighty and audacious back in 1992, but fourteen-years onward, it sadly falls flat and feels outdated. While the album is full of consistent songs, there are no prominent tracks I would feel inclined to include in a Ramones "Best of" compilation (although "Poison Heart" is a catchy). All in all, it is the first Ramones album where I felt they were merely running through the motions without a real sense of direction. However, the bonus track on this reissue of "Spiderman" is priceless and almost worth buying just for this one song. It also includes a trivial cover of The Doors "Take It As it Comes". While the album is full of the classic no nonsense rock that made virtually every Ramones album a standout in the past, I do not feel that the songwriting on this album was up to par with their previous releases. It's not a dreadful album by any means, but by no means their best. 
Album Grade: C+
Standout Tracks: "Poison Heart", "Tomorrow She Goes Away", "I Won't Let It Happen". 
Bonus Track: "Spiderman"
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Acid Eaters (1993)
The Ramones, like the early Beatles, incorporated so many classic rock songs from the 50's and 60's onto their albums and into their live sets; you sometimes mistakenly believe they were actual Ramones compositions. However, they never recorded an album full of nothing but covers until "Acid Eaters" where the band opted to choose familiar songs from the psychedelic era. Despite the safety of selections, this album never fails to bring a smile to my face even though it's far from perfect. The albums standout track-the lost nugget "Out of Time", originally recorded by The Rolling Stones, is worth the price of the album alone. Killer versions of "Have You Ever Seen The Rain", "Substitute" and "Surf City" are also included. The main downside to this collection is the song selection. It may have been nice to dig through some lesser known 60's classics like those that Steven Van Zandt has been spinning on his "Underground Garage" radio show. Regardless, it's the rare covers album that perfectly encapsulates and captures the aura of the psychedelic era-Ramones style. 
Album Grade: B
Standout Tracks: "Out of Time", "Surf City", "Substitute", "7 and 7 Is" 
Bonus Track: "Surfin' Safari"
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Adios Amigos (1994) 
The bands swan song and finale is neither a disappointment nor a masterpiece, however, it is a worthy album swan song. CJ Ramone (who took over for Dee Dee in the early 90's) can be heard handling lead vocal duties on a handful of songs, including the bonus track of the raucous cover of Motorheads "R.A.M.O.N.E.S". While the bands last studio opus ("Mondo Bizarro") was below par, they appear to be reinvigorated on this album knowing this was probably the last batch of songs they would ever cook up. The album is a back to basics affair with a throbbing backbeat and ferocious guitar chords flying throughout the album. There are no extra flourishes on this album (excessive dubbing or keyboards) and it focuses solely on the recipe that largely defined the Ramones throughout their career- drums, guitar, bass, rage and aggression. 
Album Grade: B
Standout Tracks: "She Talks To Rainbows", "I Love You", "It's Not For Me To Know", "I Don't Want To Grow Up", "Cretin Family" 
Bonus Track: "R.A.M.O.N.E.S." 
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I will forever cherish the Ramones as one of the greatest rock 'n roll bands to ever grace God's green earth. While many of the bands that came out of New York and London's punk scene in the late 70's burned out quicker than their stars rose, The Ramones soldiered on even after the punk revolution died. They forged ahead crafting original music, touring annually and took their fist-full of no nonsense punk rock attitude and sound well into the 1990's until they decided to call it a day. Sadly, little or no acclaim was bestowed upon them while they were within our presence. Decades and centuries from now, the Ramones will continue to be celebrated as the godfathers of punk rock and will also be seen as one of the 20th Century's greatest tragedies. Like Van Gogh before them, their art was ahead of their time. They were widely misunderstood and it was largely after Joey died that people began to appreciate the band's originality and brilliance. Sadly, it was far too late. Despite this tragedy, we will always have the music and that will be the Ramones lasting legacy. Acts who sold millions of records during the 70's, 80's and 90's will be forgotten generations from now, but the Ramones influence and their music will live on forever. That in many ways will be their greatest reward, whether they are here to witness it or not. Wherever Joey, Johnny and Dee Dee are today- above us, below us or somewhere in between, I wish them a prosperous journey-Godspeed my friends. 

I believe in a better world for me and you.
"-I Believe In Miracles" from the 1989 album "Brain Drain" 

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