February 20, 2003

A Sedated Tribute

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The Ramones have already inspired two cover albums, 1991’s Gabba Gabba Hey and 2002’s Ramones Forever. Both are pinnacles of the tribute album; that is, they are both notoriously uninteresting. After all, the very essence of the Ramones is one which derides such fierce banality. If the Ramones didn’t invent the DIY aesthetic, they invented the other bands that did. Produced by Johnny Ramone and Rob Zombie, in the wake of both Joey and Dee Dee Ramone’s deaths, A Tribute to the Ramones is a departure from the earlier tribute albums, featuring mainstream bands, many with musical allegiances far removed from punk.

It’s an impressive roster (Metallica, Pretenders, Garbage), but unfortunately the artistic decline that many of these bands are currently experiencing extends to covers as much as to their own material. Metallica’s “53rd and 3rd” acquires the metal pretensions the Ramones valiantly fought to dispel, deadened by a slow, sludgy dirge; it’s ultimately somniferous, the last thing for which a band named Metallica should be striving. I want to apply this criticism to Marilyn Manson’s version of “The KKK Took My Baby Away,” but it’s barely a song, let alone a tedious one, defiling the original’s jovial sarcasm; it feels like it’s trying to satirize what already was a joke.

Surprisingly, and relatively disturbingly, Kiss’ “Do You Remember Rock ‘N’ Roll Radio” is faithful to the original. Kiss has always been the Kool and the Gang of metal, and their pop sensibilities nicely coalesce with the Ramones’.

Comparatively, Bono turns “Beat on the Brat” into self-pitying incoherence, apparently playing the part of both the brat and the baseball bat, when the Ramones seem to specifically give instructions to be solely the bat in all of their songs. Predictably, the contributions of Green Day and The Offspring are almost exact replicas, although they have an unfair advantage as most of their own albums were already Ramones tributes.

Nevertheless, the majority of the album feels mediocre, not offering enough evolution to warrant their existence. However, there are two moments of unbridled brilliance that bookend the album. The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ version of “Havana Affair,” the most intentionally dumb political songs ever written, mutates into Hotel California. While it would probably be impossible to ruin a song containing a bridge that goes “Havana a-go-go,” John Frusciante’s guitar balances sorrow and frat-punk in an even more compelling version than the original. From a very different background, Tom Waits’ “Return of Jackie and Judy” sounds like all of his other performances, which is to say, like a 19th-century hobo who’s been run over by a train on his way to a funeral, hating his life … but loving peyote. Waits’ voice anarchically and perilously struggles over the sort of folk that would terrify Joan Baez. It’s possibly the only thing more punk on this album than the Ramones themselves. Still, it would just be moronic to purchase this if you’re not familiar with the Ramones. An album like Ramones or Rocket to Russia is worth twenty of these tribute albums.

Archived article by Alex Linhardt