Review Summary: Joey's final present to his fans is not perfect, but it reflects the man's lifelong mentality: "don't worry, be happy".
When their career finally petered out in the late 1990’s, the Ramones had pretty much lost all the relevance they had built throughout the late 70’s and part of the 80’s. However, the immortal hits they had concocted in their heyday still influenced millions of people worldwide, allowing the group to maintain a solid, even growing, fanbase. That was why the death of Jeffrey Hyman, AKA Joey Ramone, came as such a shock to the music world. As frontman and main voice of the Ramones, the man had spoken to the souls of millions, whether through his own pointed lyrics or singing his colleagues’ compositions. His death represented an enormous loss not only for the world of rock’n’roll, but to music as a whole.
However, the world’s grief was made a little easier by the revelation that Joey had actually left a finished, posthumous album for posterity. Idealized and recorded by himself and his friends after he was informed of his cancer, Don’t Worry About Me
was a final present from Joey to his fans. And, like much of the man’s oeuvre, it reflects his mentality throughout life: ”don’t worry, be happy”
In fact, the lyrics on this album can be construed as a message from Hyman to the fans. Joey was telling the people that, even though he was soon to leave this world, everything was really all right and they shouldn’t worry. Song titles like Stop Thinking About It
and Don’t Worry About Me
are good examples of Joey’s mindset in that respect. Elsewhere, he becomes reflexive and analytical, sharing a bit of his worldview with the listener, whether by addressing the state of Western society (Venting (It’s A Different World Today))
, reminiscing about old times (the cover to The Stooges’ 1969
) or just complimenting a pretty, competent journalist (the sweetly naïve Maria Bartiromo
). And even when he becomes gloomy and sullen about his situation, singing ”sitting in a hospital bed/frustration going through my head/I want my life/it really sucks”
, there’s always a message of hope undercutting the down vibe; in this case, it’s the song title itself, I Got Knocked Down (But I’ll Get Up)
. Knowing he wouldn’t only makes lyrics like ”by the time you make your minds up/I’ll be dead and in my grave”
that much eerier.
Musically, the album also reflects Joey’s mellow state of mind. Most of the tracks on here follow the pattern set by the Ramones in their later releases, but forgoing the group’s trademark speed in favor of their more melancholy side. Imagine any given mid-tempo or ballad from the Ramones’ 80’s and 90’s output: that’s what 90% of the songs on here sound like. The brief excursions away from this style give us weird semi-punky tracks like Mr. Punchy, Spirit In My House
itself, which, with the exception of the cover, end up not working so well.
In fact, this is quite the bipolar album. On the one hand, there are the standouts, worthy pop-punk songs all of them, which could have sided along with the best of 80’s Ramones. The Ramonized cover of What A Wonderful World
opens the album beautifully, sounding just as well as every other song to ever get the treatment; Stop Thinking About It
provides strong follow-up, being another attractive mid-tempo rocker with just enough of a mellow edge. However, for the rest of the album, great songs which follow this successful formula (Maria Bartiromo
, absolute standout Don’t Worry About Me
) will be mixed with the aforementioned failed experiments (Mr. Punchy
, where 80% of the lyrics are literally just the title repeated over and over, and Spirit In My House
, where the goofy lyrics also drag down the mildly interesting music). Moreover, even some of the punk songs are rather nondescript, making for a rather dragging midsection. I Get Knocked Down (But I’ll Get Up)
at least gives us somewhat interesting lyrics to listen to, which is more than you can say for Searching For Something
, a song which literally tiptoes by unnoticed, or Like A Drug I Never Did Before
Still, in the end, the pros even out the cons, making for a remarkably listenable album. The rose-tinted goggles of nostalgia and the grief over Joey’s untimely death do the rest, and ensure that this is a worthy addition to any punk fans collection. Don’t expect perfection, or even a very strong album; just let go of your expectations and enjoy the small present Joey was kind enough to leave behind to all of us, the fans. RIP Joey, you are still missed.
What A Wonderful World
Stop Thinking About It
Don’t Worry About Me