Review Summary: The Ramones' best album of the 80's is a return to the terse, tough riffs and dorky defiance of their best 70's work hindered by misguided attempts at modernity and re-packaging their dum-dum persona.Too Tough To Die
is the eighth album by the Ramones. A new drummer (Richie) was on board and the old drummer (Tommy) was producing. The decisions were good ones after Marky's drink problems and the slick sound of the albums that preceded it, infamously during the End Of A Century
debacle with Phil Spector. 1984 was begging for a great Ramones album with Reagan and the Cold War in the news, the problem was the Ramones' love of radio pop and desire to be accepted had rendered them the punchline to their own joke. Ouch! The Ramones, for the very first time, had something to do. Hey ho, let's go!
is one of the strongest openers in the Ramones' discography. Johnny's guitar is powerful and pummeling as ever but Joey's voice was now the essence of "screw you tough guy" geek cheek, as he sings with as much coherence and bellow as he can muster and puts the punks in their place, even cannibalising one of their song titles ("you had a bad, bad brain"
) before he announces "Every one's a secret nerd, every one's a closet lame"
. Joey can hardly contain his disgust towards the end before singing in a mock-childish voice as the music assaults your ears "MAMAMAMAMAMA's BOY! MAMAMAMAMAMA BOY!"
The next song, I'm Not Afraid Of Life
, is self-explanatory and slightly slower with a forboding riff and you just want to cheer as Joey hollers "I'm not...AFRAID OF LIFE!"
. Joey's job is done mid-way through and leaves Johnny and Dee Dee to do their thing before the riff slams in again as Joey lists more contemporary fears that strike more today than in 1984, especially the lyrics about the killer's knife and maniacs blowing us up. The Ramones were in their twenties when they formed in 1974 and now approaching forty and Joey asks "is it a crime to be old?"
"I'm a t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-tough guy"
Joeys stammers over the title track, explaining how he's Too Tough To Die
, it's a good song about how far a gangly 6' 6" freak can go but not as strong as the previous tracks.
The Only Instrumental The Ramones Ever Played is next. Durango 95
, its title a tribute to "A Clockwork Orange" (also tributed on the album sleeve) is a standard rock out that is essentially a launching pad for Dee Dee's caustic Wart Hog
, a sub-two minute rant complete with backing, er, "vocal" from the band. Dee Dee trips, stumbles and barely keeps up with the music for his Rotten-like rant about "junkies and fags" and "commies and queers" but despite the repulsive lyrics Dee Dee's silly faux-throat shred vocals and tremendous pace of the song convince me it's self-parody and a prophecy of the later, weaker work. Don't know if that's a good thing? I know how you feel.
The self-deprecating intro to Danger Zone
("what song are we playing? Danger Zone. "What, already?"
) sets up an excellent anthem for the alienated with great playing from the band and strong vocals from Joey.
The next track is a case of give and take. The ominous opening and standard fare set up a strong intro for Chasing The Night
but the video-game like synths (from Jerry Harrison of old CBGB buddies Talking Heads) are horribly dated and crassly used to new wave-up the Ramones' sound. The vocals from Joey have more in common with his performances of old and the guitar solo is neatly ingratiated. It's a good new wave song...and an awful punk rock song.
If Bryan Adams made brackets in song titles a complete no-no, this is where it started, in Howling At The Moon (Sha-La-La)
. The drums stand out a little more and the synth submerged as Joey describes a Robin Hood scenario with a snotty "sha-la-la" vocal trill. The bell toll sound and synth make it too sweet to be taken seriously, as it all goes Depeche Mode for the ending. See above.
More brackets but less synth, the chugging guitar music and confident Joey vocal make Daytime Dilemma (Dangers Of Love)
a much better song than its two predecessors despite the sore thumb piano in the middle. And the lyrics? Oh, some old cobblers about a girl.
The last three songs are too long, over four minutes. Thankfully Planet Earth 1988
is a sub-three minute drum-pounding, guitar-noodling thrash (with added piano) about the Cold War and America's turmoil. It's a decent song with a strong, authorital vocal from Joey.
, written by Richie, is one of the album's best songs. The band is uniformly loud and proud and Joey is excellent as he sings breathlessly "people always telling lies, they can keep their alibi"
before asking the people staring at him "Humankind, don't look at me, look at yourself, what do you see?
. It's a fresh, intelligent, familar Ramones song and another anthem for the outsiders.
Dee Dee takes the mic again on Endless Vacation
, a much slower song as Dee Dee drawls raggedly before it all speeds up comically for the verse. It's the second shortest song on the album but feels much longer. The drums pound half-way through as the band chant "HEY HEY HEY HEY!"
in a "we're a band this time" manner.
The album ends with the playful, crunching, rocking pop song No Go
as Joey does his best Elvis impression and Johnny squeezes in a lovely solo. A great song to end the album.
The 2002 re-release adds an entire album's worth of bonus tracks (12). The demo versions and alternative vocal versions are fine for academic interest and of the unreleased songs, the Rolling Stones cover Street Fighting Man
is OK, Smash You
is self-explantory, Out Of Here
is a slow-building mid-tempo rock song with excellent playing from Johnny and I'm Not An Answer
is a decent Dee Dee-sung fast-paced rocker .
Too Tough To Die
is a very good album despie its half-baked attempt to modernise their sound. Dee Dee's increasing stupidity regarding relevance was beginning ("Dee Dee King" was not far away) but some of his finest songs are on this album. If you like the Ramones this is an essential purchase but for the "real punks" it's a step up to new wave territory too far.
I'm Not Afraid Of Life
Planet Earth 1988