RAMONES Rocket To Russia (Sire)

RAMONES Road To Ruin (Sire)

I was always bemused by critical appeal of the Ramones, and these reissues of the band's third and fourth albums respectively ("limited edition high quality 180 gram virgin vinyl from the analog master" say the stickers, which is all good stuff) do little to enlighten me. Listening to "Rocket To Russia" it struck me that the Ramones were, at best, a band ten years out of time. They might have been the CBGBs house band, practically, but everyone else that orbited around their frenzied dumbing down, for example Television, Talking Heads, Patti Smith and even Blondie, seemed to be constructing itchy, poetic art rock that moved in an entirely different direction altogether. So to me they would have been more at home in some suburban garage in the mid-1960s, bashing out bubblegum pop covers. Emphasising this, "Rocket To Russia" contains their sensitive interpretations of the Bobby Freeman standard "Do You Wanna Dance?" and the Trashmen's novelty item "Surfin' Bird", and when they switch to ballad mode (Ramones? Ballads? I was shocked too) "Here Today, Gone Tomorrow" sounds like something that Mick and Keef could have rejected from the final cut of "Aftermath". Nevertheless, even I would concede that "Rocket To Russia" contains at least two moments of bona fide genius: "Sheena Is A Punk Rocker" just might have established itself as underground America's national anthem, and "We're A Happy Family" features the immortal couplet "Living here in Queens/Eating refried beans", as well as having most of the album's production budget apparently spent on the homelife commotion that adorns the fade-out. Speaking of the production, the work of Tony Bongiovi and T Erdelyi here is as rudimentary as you might expect, but at least has the saving grace of sounding rather fine when played loudly. Which, I suppose, is the point.

On the hardly inappropriately titled "Road To Ruin" the band sink further into formula. There's a cover of The Searchers' "Needles And Pins", you might detect traces of Alice Cooper's "Elected" within "I Wanna Be Sedated", and the gently weeping guitar sound on the intro to "Questioningly" is familiar from Bread's "Guitar Man", of all places. But otherwise the album chugs, clockwork-fashion, through its allotted thirty minutes, and you're likely to be as evangelical, or confused, about the Ramones at its end as you were at the beginning.

RAMONES Ramones (Sire) 

Has any band peaked so soon as the Ramones? They arrived so fully formed that the first track on their debut album surely stands as their definitive statement. On �Blitzkrieg Bop� they perfected the archetype of their nice-but-dim bubblegum punk, and from that point on the law of diminishing returns cuts in pretty savagely. �Beat On The Brat� and �Judy Is A Punk� might be fun on their own terms, but that opener casts a long shadow.

There is some attempt at musical development during the album�s lightning flash 29 minute duration. The sensitive balladry of �I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend�, for example, shows a side to the band that seems to have been airbrushed out of da brudders� legacy, and a cover of the Chris Montez hit �Let�s Dance� has a certain bludgeoning pop power to it. But then you�re back at the horrorshow theatricality of �Chain Saw� and �I Don�t Wanna Go Down To The Basement� and all thoughts of sonic sophistication go the way of the gabba gabba hey.

The fact that the remainder of this 1976 debut is still dumbly entertaining in a lowest common denominator fashion almost seems to be an example of the force-fed conformity punk was kicking out against.

The currently available vinyl pressing of �Ramones� is a product of the mysterious Scorpio Music, easily recognisable by the black and gold cover sticker that proclaims it to be �the nicest thing you can do for your stylus and your ears� but which instead has become something of a warning sign to those in the know. It doesn�t sound terrible by Scorpio standards but it�s no delight either, being so sloppily mastered that the banding bunches �Let�s Dance� together with half of the track that follows it.