...Ya Know?

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The Ramones weren't really brothers, but in a real way they could just as well have been. People saw them as a band, not as individuals, and while they had distinct personalities -- Joey the sweet if slightly eccentric oddball, Johnny the humorless taskmaster, Dee Dee the talented but off-kilter screw-up, and the various drummers as well-meaning journeymen -- outside of Dee Dee's ridiculous attempt to reinvent himself as a rapper, none of them ever put much effort into a solo career, as if their individual skills would never quite match what they accomplished together. … Ya Know?, the second Joey Ramone solo album, arrives ten years after 2002's Don't Worry About Me, which in turn was released close to a year after Joey's death, suggesting there's a greater demand and desire for an album from Joey in the 21st century than in the five years that separated the group's breakup and the lead singer's passing. … Ya Know? was pieced together from demos and home recordings, polished by several producers (primarily Ed Stasium and Joey's brother Mickey Leigh) with newly overdubbed backing from a number of Joey's friends and colleagues, and considering its piecemeal origins, the album sounds remarkably coherent and consistent, and the material seems intended to prove Joey was capable of more than just the attitudinal bleat that was his standard vocal trick in The Ramones. It's impossible to say if this is how the songs were originally conceived, but in this form, Joey gets to show off different facets of his vocal style as the downtown romantic on "Party Line," the charming cad of "Eyes of Green," a plaintive and lonesome soul on "Waiting for that Railroad," and a lovelorn Yuletide crooner on a slowed-down remake of "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight)." Unfortunately, for all the effort that was put into transforming these tapes into a proper album, it's clear that these were demos, sung with enthusiasm but only so much care, and most of the songs got left behind for a reason -- "Rock ‘n' Roll Is the Answer" is a mass of clichés, "New York City" seems more like an excuse to list Joey's favorite night spots than anything else, and "Cabin Fever" and "Life's a Gas" sound unfinished. … Ya Know? is a loving and generous tribute to a beloved hero of the New York rock scene, but the results never match the energy, focus, and sheer rock & roll fun of even The Ramones' lesser efforts, and it doesn't work as well as Don't Worry About Me. Though none of that changes the fact that listening to … Ya Know? will remind you of the many reasons why so many of us miss Joey Ramone, and wish he was still writing tunes and making records in a better world.

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