Friday, June 16, 2023

The View On Pop Culture: Joey Ramone, The Chemical Brothers, Da Capo Best Music Writing 2001 (2002)


After the 1996 break-up of punk icons the Ramones, the band’s frontman and teen idol Joey Ramone worked sporadically on a solo album for several years. Uncompleted at the time of his death last Easter from cancer, Ramone’s long-awaited solo bow has been wrapped-up by producer, guitarist and long-time compatriot Daniel Rey, and is being released in time for the Ramones’ induction to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in March. Ironically titled Don’t Worry About Me (Sanctuary Records), the album is a fitting tribute to an enormous talent.

With a band that includes Rey, the Dictators’ Andy Shernoff, Frankie Funaro of the Del-Lords, and former bandmate Marky Ramone, Joey has delivered the perfect pop masterpiece that he’s wanted to create his entire career. The album opens with a strong affirmation of life over death, Ramone masterfully providing the Louis Armstrong classic “What A Wonderful World” with new meaning and power. From the funny schoolboy crush of “Maria Bartiromo” to an inspired cover of the Stooges’ “1969,” Don’t Worry About Me offers up the same sort of bubblegum punk and hard rock that was the trademark of Ramones’ former band. Joey’s imperfect vocals remain infectiously friendly, his simple lyrics concealing the depth of thought behind them.

Joey speaks openly of his disease only once, with “I Got Knocked Down (But I’ll Get Up),” a powerful song of defiance and hope. The album closes with the title track, fittingly an old-fashioned love song. In his heart, Joey was always a mark for pop music, a rabid record collector with a fondness for bubblegum pop and sixties garage rock. With Don’t Worry About Me, Ramone reaffirms his love for the music that gave his life meaning. Joey brings the same sort of passion and fire to this wonderful collection of songs that he did to that first Ramones album better than twenty-five years ago. Joey Ramone leaves a magnificent recorded legacy, one that will continue to reach new fans when today’s hypermarketed artists have fallen by the wayside.
It was just a couple of summers ago that the major label “five families” tried to cram electronica – a dance music that blends big beats and driving electronic rhythms – down our throats, failing miserably in their attempt to create a new (and lucrative) musical trend to exploit. If they had been smart, they would have waited for the cream to rise to the top of the fledgling scene, creating mainstream stars in the process. Since the summer of ‘99, several electronica-oriented artists and deejays, most notably Daft Punk, Fatboy Slim, and the Chemical Brothers, have become dance-floor royalty, selling oodles of CDs, appearing in teevee commercials and generally appealing to a mainstream audience in a way that the previous hype could never have accomplished.

The Chemical Brothers' Come With Us
Back in the mid-nineties, the duo of Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons were the hottest deejays on the U.K. club scene. After a handful of albums, the pair – known as the Chemical Brothers – remain cult favorites in the states even as they consistently go top ten in their homeland. With the release of Come With Us (Astralwerks Records), though, the Chemical Brothers are poised on the brink of a major breakthrough stateside. Fueled by the high-energy dancefloor hit “It Began In Afrika,” the album mixes acid-house and techno dance music with elements of hip-hop and funk, the duo then delivering their monster beats with an undeniable rock aesthetic.

The result is an electrifying collection of tunes on Come With Us that punch you directly between the ears while forcing even the most hidebound rocker to move their feet to the rhythm. I suspect that tracks like “Galaxy Bounce,” “The State We’re In” with vocalist Beth Orton, “Star Guitar” and “The Test,” featuring vocals by Richard Ashcroft of the Verve, will all get a lot of play in clubs during the months to come. My guess is that the Chemical Brothers’ Come With Us is certain to become the dance-floor soundtrack for the summer of ‘02.

Music journalism ain’t rocket science, folks, and not even quantum physics offers as many possibilities as does the wide world of music. When rock criticism hits the bull’s eye, however, it provides the reader with valuable insight into the artist’s psyche, the musician’s methodology and the style’s sensibilities. For several seasons now, Ben Schafer of Da Capo Press has worked with various “guest editors” to compile an annual collection of the year’s best writing on the various aspects of music – popular and otherwise – culled from newspapers, magazines and web sites. This year, with the help of novelist Nick Hornby (author of High Fidelity), the pair have put together a stellar representation of music writing for Da Capo Best Music Writing 2001 (Da Capo Press).

Some of the names represented in Da Capo Best Music Writing 2001 are familiar, and Richard Meltzer remembering a young Cameron Crowe, Anthony DeCurtis on Johnny Cash, and Greil Marcus writing about the distaff punk trio Sleater-Kinney do not disappoint. It’s the writers that you don’t know that deliver the real thrills herein, though, such as Carly Carioli’s excellent reporting on the Napster phenomena or Monica Kendrick’s piece on the Stooges’ Fun House Sessions CD collection. “The Rock Snob’s Dictionary” is a brilliant piece of satire and a valuable guide to rock ‘n’ roll exotica while observations by Charles Mann and Nick Tosches on the record biz are entertaining and informative. If you enjoy music of any style and want to gain a greater knowledge and understanding of the musician’s craft, look no further than this indispensable annual collection. (The View On Pop Culture, February 2002)

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