After being a band for two decades, the Ramones announced in 1995 that they would be ending their long, success-deprived musical journey the following year. But not before they put out one final album, quite appropriately titled ¡Adios Amigos!. It's an album that no one really talks about, no bands do covers of, and has basically fallen off the face of the planet. I bought it in 1999, making 10 years now of private enjoyment, so I figured it was time to at least make my thoughts about the album known.
The most notable aspect of ¡Adios Amigos! is that it's missing Dee Dee Ramone, who quit in 1989, and it's one of two studio albums with C.J. Ramone taking his place (I'm excluding Acid Eaters here, because that's a covers album). There are some who refuse to even acknowledge C.J.'s presence in the band, claiming that the idea of them ever replacing Dee Dee was sacrilege, but I feel like if Joey and Johnny and Marky thought it was a good idea, then maybe he shouldn't be totally dismissed. Besides, anyone bemoaning the loss of Dee Dee should know that he actually wrote six of these 13 songs. It's such a strange arrangement; your crazy bassist quits because he's crazy but he still wants to write songs for you and some of them suck but some rule hard and you wonder why he doesn't just join the band again if he's going to contribute almost half the album but he's crazy so you just take the songs and go with it. At least, I assume their thought process went something like that.
By this point in their career, the Ramones had started with their buzz-saw punk rock, went bubblegum, tried a little hardcore, attempted hard rock and were now coming back to a sound close to what they began with. It's mostly mid-tempo, mostly power chords, mostly catchy. But there are moments where they're hitting gears that they had never hit before, like the depressive "She Talks to Rainbows," and most happily on "Life's a Gas," truly one of the best songs Joey ever wrote. The entirety of the lyrics are as follows: "Life's a gas. Whoa-oh-oh. So don't be sad, 'cuz I'll be there. Don't be sad at all. Life's a gas. Whoa-oh-oh." Repeat several times. It's achingly direct, flat-out beautiful, and if the American public is only ever going to know of maybe three or four Ramones songs, then along with "I Wanna Be Sedated" this should be one of them.
C.J. did write two songs, "Scattergun" and "Got a Lot to Say," managing to not embarrass himself. They are both perfectly fine. The slight embarrassment comes when he has to sing Dee Dee's "Cretin Family," a song with lyrics so dumb they make "Cretin Hop" sound like the dignified prose of Sylvia Plath: "Hey, here's the mirror. See your stupid face. what a disgrace, man, and you know it's true." Pretty shameful, but Dee Dee did get it together enough to write "Born to Die in Berlin," telling us about how awful of a man he is and how he will inevitably die young, requesting no sympathy from anyone. He contributes a verse for the song in German, recorded over the telephone, and even if you can't understand it, you feel it.
¡Adios Amigos! includes two covers: "I Don't Wanna Grow Up" by Tom Waits (a song so perfect for the Ramones you almost wonder if Tom wrote it with them in mind) and "I Love You" by Johnny Thunders (so boring and worthless it barely merits a mention). Maybe it was a lack of motivation to write much more new stuff, but it's forgivable. This was a group of guys who had been stuck in the same mindset for almost half their lives: tour, record, tour, record, tour, record, ad nauseum. It was all they knew. And the fact that ¡Adios Amigos! actually came out as a respectable album filled with the right balance of hope and misery expected from men over 40 is a testament to how hard they worked to do a good job, even if it never made them as rich as they wanted to be.