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Various Artists A Tribute To The Ramones: We're A Happy Family

By Jeff Kerby, Contributor
Tuesday, April 15, 2003 @ 11:51 AM


(Columbia)

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A conversation between two rockers sipping Slurpees outside a 7-11 in Mulletville offers up this poignant musical critique after just viewing a dirty pedestrian sloppily clad in a heavily laundered Ramones t-shirt walking by on the sidewalk in front of them.

Rocker 1: “Dude, the Ramones fuckin’ sucked.”

Rocker 2: “Hell yeah, Gabba gabba this, mutherfucker.” (Said as crotch grabbed with hand not wrapped around frosty blue beverage.)

Rocker 1: “Their guitarist was way simple. I could play that shit in my first semester of guitar class.”

Rocker 2: “Fuckin’ A. Fuckin’ A. I’d rather listen to a bunch of REAL musicians. You know who I’m talkin’ bout.

Rocker 1: Fuck yeah. Guys like Mutherfuckin’ Yngwie Malmsteen.

Rocker 2: Yep, that fat bitch can rock! You know, like he did on that one song.

Rocker 1: Oh yeah, thaaat song---I don’t remember the name though. I think it had something to do witches and warlocks and shit.

Rocker 2: Dude, I think that was Dio.

Rocker 1: Whatever bro, Yngwie can play the guitar—he’s a musician. Fuck the Ramones and their stupid hair. Let’s go home right now and throw on some Malmsteen or Satriani.

Rocker 2: Yeah, let’s go rock out and eat some jerky!! Fuck yeah!!

Yep, Yngwie was a great guitarist and undoubtedly an even better eater. It’s just too bad that being a guitar virtuoso doesn’t mean that the musician in question will ever produce the type of material will be memorable and command the interest of listeners for decades to come. Like them or not, that is what the Ramones did. They understood that music could be powerfully simple and performed by anyone walking this Earth who possesses a voice, a sense of humor and a willingness to make a statement regardless of whether or not the audience is ready to hear the message. It’s common knowledge that not everyone in metal dismisses Joey and company as talentless hacks. After all, this collection of tribute songs was produced and coordinated by none other than Rob Zombie—a singer who along with such metal stalwarts as AC/DC and Motorhead realizes the value in finding your own niche and rocking it like no one else can. His direction, no doubt, is what causes this album to succeed whereas most tributes just suck.

There are plenty of obvious contributors to We’re A Happy Family: The Offspring, Green Day and Rancid. In all three of these cases, the bands stick pretty close to the path set forth by the originals which isn’t all that surprising considering their regular offerings owe more than a considerable nod to the original mop top punks. Others who have unexpectedly lent their musicianship to this project include Tom Waits who does his own take on “The Return of Jackie and Judie” resplendent with his convalescent tracheotomy tinged vocals and U2 who provides one of the album’s low points with their testicle-deprived version of “Beat on the Brat”. Surprisingly, Garbage’s sly rendering of “I Just Wanna Have Something To Do” is one of the better songs here and the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s take on “Havanna Affair” strikes just the right balance between homage and innovation. Of course, you can’t have some type of punk tribute without having Eddie Vedder slinking around in the periphery somewhere. Although the Pearl Jam’s front man’s mohawk is only slightly more believable than Jani Lane’s, Vedder does deliver in his performance of “Daytime Dilemma” and “I Believe in Miracles” in which he collaborates with Zeke.

As for metal’s contribution to all that is the Ramones, Rob Zombie’s “Blitzkrieg Bop” is exactly what you’d expect—the Ramones sound with Zombie’s signature indelibly etched on its surface like a scar. Zombie’s performance is believable and listenable and exactly the type of track that listeners hope for when they shell out money for a tribute. In addition, “Do You Remember Rock n’ Roll Radio” is brought to you by none other than the legendary band Kiss. I have to admit that their three minutes on this album are more than respectable, but you have to know that Joey is probably rolling in his grave over the knowledge that the biggest whores that corporate rock have ever produced are covering his material albeit in a somewhat competent way. Come to think of it, maybe Zombie included Kiss on this project because he realized that any group of fans fiscally retarded enough to spend a hundred bucks for an Official Kiss Paper Weight certainly wouldn’t have a problem with shelling out sixteen dollars for one song performed by their makeup clad heroes.

The mighty Metallica was also recruited to pay respect to this seminal band, and they did so by recording a putrid version of “53rd and 3rd”. This is surprising because they have done many stellar covers of other bands including the Misfits and Thin Lizzy. On this song though, Hetfield’s vocals don’t represent him well, and Lars sounds as if he’d rather be standing on 53rd and 3rd “tryin’ to turn a trick.” As bad as that song was though, the worst had to be Marilyn Manson’s completely laughable stab at one of the great songs of all time, “The KKK Took My Baby Away.” The leader of the Spooky Kids decided that it would clever and ironic to slow the song down and whisper the lyrics because… well, because he is just so damn dark and such a doggone mystery. Shit, the only mystery in this world that exists regarding Marilyn Manson is how a beauty like Rose McGowan could ever consent to screw his pimply ass in a scenario that didn’t involve either Satan himself or a loaded revolver.

The Ramones never were a band that appealed to everyone. Some got it, and some didn’t. For the ones who did, the Ramones are going to stand throughout the ages as easily one of the top five bands who ever existed. For those who didn’t, they are doomed to mistake musicianship for quality and “lyrical complexity” for depth. The bands who performed on this hopefully understand the difference between the two as well. In all fairness, this is probably one of the better tribute albums that has been recorded. I attribute this mostly to Rob Zombie’s efforts, and the fact that this guy has never put out anything half-assed in his life. The biggest disappointment on this disc stems from metal’s seeming lack of aggression and purpose here. In a collection where the rockers should have been the stalwarts on this disc, these bands merely settled for recording bland attempts at punk style credibility which is extremely sad because metal owes more to these renegades and their attitude than is generally ever understood or even recognized. After all, you have to remember--if the food chain supports it, there will be a thousand Yngwie Malmsteens in the years to come---there will only be one Ramones.

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