Review Summary: Perhaps not the Ramones' best-selling album, but certainly their strongest set of songs.
Ah yes, The Ramones. They’re kinda like the Beach Boys of punk, aren’t they? That kind of, bouncy, breezy, fun-loving band nobody ever really dislikes. Even the most hardened of true-kvlt
black metallers will certainly find a place in his heart for the four bros from Queens, and their particular brand of fast, catchy pop-punk, and even their most inconsistent records have a couple of irresistible moments that are impossible not to love.
In another sense, the Ramones are also like those slightly-disreputable neighbourhood kids making noise in a garage two doors down. Older people frown at them, but every kid on the street wants to hang out at their rehearsal spot. They base their music on simplicity and a laid-back, just-for-fun attitude that’s lacking in so many of today’s overserious bands. This is probably what made their success, and the reason they left such a mark on the music scene of the last four decades. In fact, while there were myriads of would-be imitators, nobody has quite grasped that
Ramonian sound. Unlike band such as Mötörhead and Hellhammer, there was never a complete Ramones sound-alike, although bands such as Screeching Weasel came quite close.
However, most of the band’s success was built in the 70’s. The 80’s were sketchy at best, and the 90’s…well, best forget about the 90’s. But in the 70’s, the Ramones were an unstoppable force, charging forward every year with another set of lightning-fast songs and catchy hooks.
Rocket To Russia
is just such an assault, and not only that: it’s probably the best of the early Ramones efforts. What we have here is yet another set of 14 songs dispatched in just over half an hour, and where most tracks barely reach the two-minute mark, let alone the three-minute one. In short, it’s a direct follow up to Ramones
and Leave Home
, the group’s first two opuses. But like any good sequel, it ups the ante, presenting better songwriting and even more appealing hooks, as well as a reduction in filler, a problem which plagued its predecessors.
In fact, most of this album went on to be famous. Altogether, songs from Rocket to Russia
made up about a third of the Ramones’ legendary live album, It’s Alive!
. Their presence on this magnum opus of live music helped catapult them to fame, some unfairly (the drab I Wanna Be Well
and the woeful I Don’t Care
), others meritorily (Rockaway Beach, Teenage Lobotomy, Do You Wanna Dance
). Likewise, some good tracks that the Ramones didn’t happen to play that night unfairly fell into oblivion, remembered by only the most devoted fans.
Case in point: Locket Love
. It’s not the best song on the album (those would be Rockaway Beach
and Teenage Lobotomy
), but it’s certainly much better than some of the previously mentioned songs, even if it misses the perfect opportunity to end and overstretches itself a little. It also helps usher in a new feature for Ramones songs: full sets of lyrics. This feature, not present in the first two songs of the album, would later be determinant to the group’s 80’s career, and is reprised here on songs such as Ramona
But while the lyrics are getting more developed, musically very little has changed. It’s still the dumb, fast, loud fun-punk the band had accostumed us to. Surf music influences become more evident on tracks such as Rockaway Beach
and the cover of Surfin’ Bird
, certainly one of the most infuriating covers of all time. All the while, mid-tempos and ballads continue to make increasingly less sporadic appearances. Here Today, Gone Tomorrow
is probably the balladest ballad the group ever wrote, and even includes a short but sweet solo from Johnny. I Don’t Care
and I Wanna Be Well
make up the rest of the slow contingent, and fare nowhere near as well as Here Today…
. The first is probably the worst song the Ramones ever wrote pre-1980, consisting of a plodding, heavy guitar riff and monotonous beat, over which Joey drones ”I don’t care”
. Repeat for three minutes, and you have a snooze-fest. The second is much less offensive, but it’s also quite dull, despite some funny lyrics.
The rest of the album follows the Ramones tradition. Fast beats and dumb choruses come in droves, and songs like Sheena is a Punk Rocker, I Can’t Give You Anything, We’re a Happy Family
or Cretin Hop
will go straight to the heart of any rocker, no matter how hardened he or she thinks he or she is. On the flipside is Why Is It Always This Way
, the worst track after I Don’t Care
, whose only redeeming feature is its mercifully short duration.
Overall, however, this is a more than deserving album. A definite improvement over the already strong Leave Home
, this is, however, afflicted by much of the same ailments, namely the presence of filler. Had the group removed I Don’t Care, Why Is It Always This Way
and – maybe – I Wanna Be Well
, we’d have a 5/5 on our hands. As it stands, it’s still heavily recommended, even if it does fall short of perfection. At heart, the Ramones of Rocket To Russia
are still the same group of goofy, lovable 16-year-olds writing dumb lyrics about girls, geeks and the beach. By the next album, Road to Ruin
, some of the spark and most of the inspiration would be gone, which leaves Rocket to Russia
as the pinnacle and figurehead of the group's best phase.
Do You Wanna Dance?