Joey Ramone - Don't Worry About Me
Sanctuary Records // DVD Audio // $24.98 // October 11, 2002
Review by Gil Jawetz | posted January 24, 2003
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THE STRAIGHT DOPE:
Joey Ramone is often called the godfather of punk and, as the most visible and consistent member of the Ramones during their roughly quarter-century history, he definitely earned that title. Introducing kids everywhere to loud, fast, guitar-driven songs, barely ever hitting the three-minute mark, the Ramones drilled classics like "Blitzkrieg Bop," "I Wanna Be Sedated," and "Beat on the Brat" into the skulls of impressionable youth everywhere. When the band called it quits in 1996 the universally loved Joey spent his time organizing shows for younger bands in New York and just being cool. He also spent a number of years working on a solo album, something that wasn't quite finished when he died of cancer in 2001. With Joey's memory fresh, producer/collaborator Daniel Rey finished off the instrumentation and released Don't Worry About Me to the crowded pop market.

Given how strong an impact Joey had on the music world (with fresh-faced punks copying his style and sound in every generation since his debut) I'd love to say that Don't Worry About Me turned out to be the final punk masterpiece from the godfather, but it's actually an intermittently entertaining, ultimately unsatisfying romp that pales in comparison to real Ramones albums like Ramones and Rocket to Russia. The album kicks off with Joey's cover of "What a Wonderful World," (most famously recorded by Louis Armstrong) which is probably the most played track from the disc (It also appears over the closing credits of Michael Moore's Bowling For Columbine) and is exactly the right kind of cover for Joey to have tackled. He's completely sincere and makes no attempt to recontextualize this unapologetically romantic song; Armstrong's rendition may actually have a greater of a sense that the world isn't as wonderful as it seems than Joey's version. Unlike, say, Sid Vicious' sneering "My Way," Joey's "What a Wonderful World" is earnest and endearing. But Joey was just that kind of guy.

The other stand-out track is similarly poppy; "Maria Bartiromo" is a love song to the CNBC anchorwoman who Joey apparently had quite a crush on. Just check out the first verse:

What's happening on Wall Street?
What's happening at the Stock Exchange?
I want to know!
What's happening on Squawk Box?
What's happening with my stocks?
I want to know!
I watch you on the TV every single day!
Those eyes make everything okay!
I watch her every day!
I watch her every night!
She's really outta sight!

These are the kind of cute, almost innocent lyrics that Joey came up with whether he was talking about love or drugs or the KKK. The song is fast, funny and fun.

Another effective song is "I Got Knocked Down (But I'll Get Up)" which repeats lyrics like "Sitting in a hospital bed" over and over (Joey's only real reference to his illness on the album), but in an upbeat way. Just like in "I Wanna Be Sedated" he's just bored and can't wait to get gone.

Other songs on the album, however, aren't as good. Songs like "Stop Thinking About It" and "Searching for Something" have lyrics that read like they might have impact but the execution is lacking. "Mr. Punchy" is almost frustrating in its repetitiveness even for a singer who elevated repeated lyrics to an artform. "Venting (It's A Different World Today)" has one of the most annoying chorus melodies I've heard in a long time.

It feels weird to criticize the music of a recently-passed hero. What's the point? This is the last music we'll ever hear from dear old Joey and there is some good material here. Long-time Ramones fans absolutely should hear this disc (although frankly the CD would be fine; the DVD is unnecessary) but anyone looking for an introduction should start with the Ramones' earlier stuff, available in a variety of compilations.

AUDIO:
The audio is available in 96khz/24-bit DVD-Audio 5.1 DVD-Audio format, as well as Dolby Digital 5.1 (for regular DVD players). The sound is reasonably clear considering Joey's punk-pop sound (definitely crisper than the classic mud sound of the original Ramones albums) but it doesn't approach the kind of sound quality technically suggested by the DVD-Audio name. This may be post-millennium punk, but it's still punk. Guitars sound pretty dirty, drums occasionally sound thin, and Joey's vocals are somewhat buried in the mix. That's not to say it sounds bad; It sounds right. The use of the rear speakers is pretty limited with most of the sound coming from the standard front speakers. This isn't ultra-surround production.

EXTRAS:
The very lame video for "What a Wonderful World" is included as well as text bios and a text tribute to Joey from producer Rey. More video content would have been nice for the price.



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