This week the need has arisen to address the final recording of one of pop music’s innovators, although his group’s primary influence came as addition by subtraction. Or just by raising a middle finger to Deep Purple and Boston. Either way, the Ramones injected more life into the music world by stripping down each song into energetic three-chord bursts than nearly any group could have in 1975. Way, to go, Joe.
“Don’t Worry About Me,” Joey Ramone’s posthumously released solo album, isn’t exactly the best stuff he’s done. In fact, there is only one song that is truly worth the bucks. But that song says more about his legacy than any epic masterpiece ever could.
His punky cover of Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World” works for Joey the same way it did for the greatest jazz musician of all time. It makes sense, really. Louis changed the music world with energy and a Grade A sense of humor. He then continued to play the same style of music as he watched generations of newcomers take his music in increasingly divergent directions.
Joey changed the world’s music by singing energetic songs with perhaps a lower grade of humor, but songs about sniffing glue and the KKK stealing your sweetheart make me laugh, anyway. And while Joey, both with and without the Ramones, continued to make goofy three-chord punk songs while the punk world divided and subdivided into hardcore, pop punk, noisecore, emo, ska, punk-ska, etc.
“What A Wonderful World” represents for both artists their career-long commitment too positively.
And fun. Music is fun, so it should be fun for listeners and for the performers. Sometimes it is important to address serious subjects, but in the end, you’ve just got to smile.
One of the bands to feel the power of punk’s simplicity is Phantom Planet, the side project of actor Jason Schwartzman (“Rushmore,” “Slackers”). He drums for the group, and guitarist/vocalist Alex Greenwald has been part of several of those despicable GAP commercials and played the lead in “Donnie Darko.” Not bad for a couple of guys whose dreams of stardom started with the formation of their band in a Pizza Hut.
Maybe the fact that the band has such connections and career opportunities can help to explain the carefree attitude that flows through Phantom Planet’s third release, “The Guest.” One minute they sound like a carbon copy of the Bay City Rollers, the next they do a passable Beatles impression then jump ahead in the timeline to make a pitiful try for Radiohead-like dissonance.
It is the Bay City Rollers moments? Bay City Rollers without the dork-dance beats that provide the most memorable moments. “Hey Now Girl,” “Nobody’s Fault” and “Always On My Mind” are a pure bubblegum delights, and “One Ray Of Sunlight” could have been a 10 week chart topper in 1977. So could the first three, actually.
Paul McCartney himself ought to be proud of the clone job they did with the album’s best track, “Lonely Day.”
While being carefree enough to mix the Radiohead sound in, however, Phantom Planet earns no points musically for the super skippable “In the Darkest Hour” and “Turn Smile Shift Repeat.” Its as if they want to be deep and pensive, but their lives have been to easy and they don’t know any minor chords. But kudos for trying, anyhow.
This band’s strongest point has to be their defiant use of catchy melody in their songwriting. Like Weezer, they show that you don’t have to give up hummable vocal lines and harmony just because you don’t want to sound like Hootie. Good for you kids.
One note of caution, however. Most of the “The Guest,” like most poppy, hummable albums, has not been sprinkled with the fairy dust that keeps the Weezer albums fresh. These songs can get old fast.
I was sick of “Anthem” before it was over, and I try to skip “Always On My Mind” as often as possible just in case I ever get stuck and have to play the whole album through. I would recommend this album to anyone who can stand corny alternative without depth. That sounds bad, I guess, but it really isn’t.
Just remember in the end, music is supposed to be fun.