There is always something rather unsettling about posthumous releases. This is partly due to the fact that they tend to be an effective vehicle for plugging a famous name for more money, but more importantly, is the end result what the artists really would have wanted? Joey Ramone’s posthumous debut, Don’t Worry About Me, was released a year after his death from lymphoma in 2001. The record was far from groundbreaking – and it was probably more or less what Ramone had intended – but it did feature his punchy reinterpretation of Louis Armstrong’s What A Wonderful World.
Now, eighth years on, comes Ramone’s second posthumous release, entitled Ya Know? Like its predecessor there is little on the Ramones frontman’s second effort to really stoke up much excitement. As is the way with these releases, it’s a fairly drab affair that doesn’t really do anyone any justice, least of all Joey Ramone. After spending so many years fronting the Ramones with his signature snarling vocal, Ya Know? just feels an inadequate tribute, filled with re-hashed Ramones songs and fleshed-out cuts. It’s not all bad, though.
Album opener, Rock ‘n Roll Is The Answer – which was released for Record Store Day – sees Ramone exhibit the strut and confidence of his pomp, with his vocals sounding as good as in his heyday. It’s followed by the adrenaline-filled guitars of Going Nowhere Fast, which really comes to life on the chorus, as Ramone sings: “Got to get away/ if we’re gonna last/ you’re going nowhere fast.” What Did I Do To Deserve You? is another highlight that borrows strongly from the simple – but effective – three-minute structure that made the Ramones the spearhead of punk music in the late ’70s.
The album was put together by Ramones producers Ed Stasium, Daniel Rey and Jean Beauvoir, along with guests such as Joan Jett, Steven Van Zandt and Cheap Trick. While they have undoubtedly done a good job bringing these cuts and demos together into one cohesive album, it’s hard not to feel slightly underwhelmed. There is certainly little here to grab the imagination and show a particularly strong inclination from Ramone to set himself apart from his iconic band with his solo material.
The first actual Ramones cover, the melancholy and drawn-out Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight), is a strange inclusion that adds little to the album. While New York City feels like a Ramones track wrapped tightly in cotton wool, with none of the bite or urgency required to prevent it from becoming a middle-of-the-road rocker. I Couldn’t Sleep is an improvement, with its multiple riffs running all over the underlying bass. However, there are just two many mid tempo tracks like Eyes Of Green and Make Me Tremble, which fail to arose any emotion whatsoever.
Cabin Fever is a much more ambitious track, with Ramone’s vocals soaring over a wall of guitar fuzz. Yet the best song the LP is without doubt the poignant closer, Life’s A Gas – the second re-recorded Ramones song – which is a beautiful acoustic number with massive heart. The wonderful re-imagining of the song from the final Ramones album ¡Adiós Amigos! is a fitting reminder of just how great Ramone was.
While there is nothing on Ya Know? that is necessarily bad, there is also nothing particularly engaging, either. There are a few exceptions, but for the most part, Ramone’s second posthumous album is characterless. It has been joined and glued together with the best possible intentions, but as with its predecessor, …Ya Know will never be essential listening. Instead, it is a valiant, but ultimately fruitless attempt to add to the already brilliant back catalogue of the Ramones.