The legacy of Joey Ramone suffers from an abundance of journalism and third party interviews. Often in Ramones-centric discussion, Joey is portrayed as the "shy, distanced, soulful" one while his foil, Johnny, is portrayed as the "self-assertive, militaristic, aggressive" one. But, really, no person, particularly someone as complex as Joey, can be broken down into three or so adjectives, or even an interview, or even a biography. For example, a single off-the-cuff interview with Joey from 1996 shows that he's not entirely what Ramones-theology has etched him out to be. But, perhaps because Joey was reticent to do interviews, when re-constructing the man, we are left with a plethora of third hand accounts and our own preconceptions. That's one of the things that makes the resurrection of Joey on his second solo, and first posthumous LP, …Ya Know?, so difficult for both the listener and the resurrectors.
Reaffirmingly, right off the bat, Joey's vocal contributions, which were recorded from the time of Ramones' dissolution to his death, are as strong as ever. For the most part, Joey represents himself in his melancholy, reflective self heard cross his first LP, Don't Worry About Me. Instead of beating on the brat and sniffing glue, Joey seems to pull from his cherished '60s pop icons and salutes love on "What Did I Ever Do to Deserve You?," the wondrous "New York City" and the (meta) rejuvinative power of rock music on "Rock and Roll is the Answer."
But, just as an oversimplification of Joey is unjust, Ed Stasium and Jean Beauvoir, who produced the album, include Joey' darker aspects, to give some suggestion into the complex psyche of the most distanced Ramone. On "Seven Days of Gloom" he laments his own depression with the biting "I'll never be happy." "Going Nowhere Fast" finds him again facing a rut.
But, because most of these tracks were unused leftovers, the album doesn't quite have the explosive arc of Don't Worry About Me. Where Worry kicked off with an energy strike, and alternated between the ballads and breakers to give the album a classic Ramones cadence, and making it seem like it was half as long as it was, …Ya Know? is mostly ballads. It's interesting to hear Joey in balladeer mode on almost every track, because it emphases the inherent sadness of the man. But in doing so, it suggests that Joey rarely, if ever, had joy…is that the truth? And more importantly is this how he would have portrayed himself?
The instrumental backing, which was mostly supplied postmortem, mainly sticks around Joey's later career template with some interesting flourishes. The Pogue-ish "Waiting For That Railroad" presents an old-country ballad that works surprisingly well. The Joan Jett/AC/DC-ish "Rock 'n' Roll is the Answer" has power riffage that supplies Joey with a punchy backdrop, but his mid-paced delivery doesn't quite seem to fit with the muscular slashing.
Unlike Don't Worry About Me at 15 tracks, ...Ya Know? seems a little long, not because any of the material is weak--to the contrary, each of the songs would make excellent singles--but because of the relatively slow pace of each of the songs, many of which have been stretched to over four minutes. In using Joey's more somber aspect, we get an unchangingly sad Ramone, which I'm not sure is accurate.
But, at any rate, the sheer ability of Joey to portray a sadness that is neither overwhelming nor understated is singular. This release certainly doesn't tarnish Joey's legacy, and it does exhibit what made him so great, but as with the abundance of Ramones interview material out there, are we just getting one side of the man? Still, it's hard not to get choked up on the acoustic, closing number "Life's a Gas" where Joey assures "Life's a gas / So don't be sad cause I'll be there."
-There are at least a few, unreleased high quality recordings of post-Ramones Joey solo live performances. How about releasing some of those bad boys to pay credit to his legacy?
-I have seen a few random postings about this project "being a cash in" which I find to be without merit. I would point out that this LP was headed by Micky Leigh, Joey's brother who recorded with Joey and supported him throughout his career, so I think we can squash that bug right here.