Review Summary: Like Brain Drain, except better.
The mention of later-day Ramones may make you go “urgh”. It mostly does for me. Even as early as 1979, the band was showing clear signs of stagnation with the dull Road to Ruin
. End of The Century
was good again, but then an atrocious ten years started for the former punks. With albums ranging between horrible and just plain dull, the Queens four-piece seemed unable to recapture the fun and simplicity of their early years.
And then Dee Dee left the band.
The situation was bad enough as it was, but with their main source of inspiration gone, the Ramones might as well have called it a day. But they didn’t. As redundant as they might have been, they pressed on, and 1992 saw the arrival of their thirteenth studio album, Mondo Bizarro
. For this effort, Dee Dee had been replaced with CJ Ramone, who even gets a thank you in the form of a lyric on It’s Gonna Be Alright
– ”I’m so glad CJ is here”
, sings Joey Ramone, in an autobiographical lyric dedicated to the group’s loyal fans. And it must have been true, too. After all, without CJ there would have been no bassist, and therefore no album. But would that have been a good thing?
The answer is: no. Mondo Bizarro
is a much more worthy addition to the Ramones canon than the drab, tuneless Subterranean Jungle
or the directionless Too Tough To Die
. It also tops its predecessor, Brain Drain
, in every possible field of categorization. The songwriting’s tighter (Dee Dee is not really missed); the choruses are catchier; and the sound as a whole is more cohesive than the mishmash of styles represented on Brain Drain
. And there isn’t half as much filler. Or radio concessions, for that matter.
In fact, the best way to describe this album would be as a logical continuation to Brain Drain
. The production is quite similar, and some of the riffs and songs wouldn’t have felt out of place on that album. About half of these songs could have been – and probably were – outtakes from the previous album. Which is ironic, since 90% of the songs on Bizarro
are twice as strong as those who made it onto Brain Drain
. Oh, and did I mention they’re still using that double-tap drum pattern from I Believe in Miracles
Also ironic is the fact that some of the best songs on this album are those in which the Ramones try something new. A band who had once been known for writing 15 similar songs and calling it an album was now revelling in variety.
That is not to say that the old Ramones spirit was lost. On the contrary, it seems to have been retrieved for this album, as some of the songs rock out with a vengeance. The most blatant example is Tomorrow She Goes Away
, which thrives on a three-chord riff just like in old times, Touring
, on the other hand, would have fitted right into End of the Century
, with its singsongy chorus, Beach Boys-esque backing vocals and lyrical references to old hits (”We can hitch a ride to Rockaway Beach/it’s not hard, not far to reach!”
And then there are songs like Poison Heart
. Arguably the best song on this album, it is a melancholy ballad with really dark lyrics and a great vocal performance by Joey Ramone (a constant throughout the album). The chorus will get stuck in your head for ages, too, despite the dark message it conveys. Anxiety
also innovates, grounding itself on a thumping drum beat similar to Zero Zero UFO
, but winning its hand – just like its parent song – due to an hilarious set of lyrics (”Anxiety, anxiety, keeps me happy!/Nothing’s right ‘til it’s all wrong/Nothing makes sense until I’m tense”
), which makes it another one of the standouts on this album.
And since we mention lyrics, you Ramones purists should know that the group now sings full sets of words. Gone are the one-sentence songs; on Mondo
, just like in its preceding records, Joey tries to send out messages about the state of the world. Be it the 9-to-5 daily grind on The Job That Ate My Brain
, the cab ride from h&ll on Cabbies on Crack
or merely the life on the road (Touring
, It’s Gonna Be Alright
), nearly all the songs have a well-defined subject. Strangely, the few attempts there are at an old-fashioned Ramones lyric (Heidi is a Headcase
) are also the least interesting. Still, about two-thirds of this album are some of the stronger work the Ramones had put out in over a decade.
Unfortunately, those two-thirds have to side with the usual uninspired filler songs. Tracks such as It’s Gonna Be Alright
, Main Man
or Heidi is a Headcase
are just plain dull, but Cabbies on Crack
or Take It As It Comes
cross the line into actively awful. Working together, this handful of songs help drag down the album and nearly fog the brilliance of some of the other tracks in the lineup.
Still, it could be worse. It could be a second Subterranean Jungle
or Pleasant Dreams
. Or, after the departure of Dee Dee, merely a lost, directionless album. It’s not. It’s a solid group of songs that will appeal to fans of the Ramones, both old and new, and that, unlike other efforts, does not shame the group’s legacy. Not essential or a must-buy, but if you have the Big Three and you see it up for download, or at a decent price, then by all means get it.
The Job That Ate My Brain
Tomorrow She Goes Away