Ramones - Animal Boy (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review


Animal Boy (1986)

Sire Records

                Animal Boy was the third in a series of albums the Ramones released in the early 80’s that were an attempt to get back to their earlier harder edged sound. While Too Tough To Die had veered toward the heavy metal and hardcore territory, a large portion of this album kept the hard edge but found the band mixing it with the knowledge of early rock music and pop sensibilities that made early Ramones albums timeless classics. It ended up being the culmination of spending the past several albums searching for a new identity.

“Somebody Put Something in My Drink” opens with drums before Joey’s voice cuts in with one of the better vocal hooks the band ever put to tape as he repeats the song’s title over and over again. Once the guitars kick in, the song veers into early Cheap Trick territory ever so slightly. However, to say that wasn’t the result of mutual admiration on both bands would be foolish as Johnny Ramone had admitted one of their previous songs, “The KKK Took My Baby Away” was influenced musically by the Cheap Trick song, “He’s A Whore.” And honestly, the sound works quite well for the band; it combines Johnny’s love of loud guitar’s with Joey’s love for insatiable pop sensibilities. Which is ironic, given that drummer Ritchie Ramone is given the songwriting credit.

Elsewhere on the album, “Love Kills” found Dee Dee Ramone lamenting the deaths of Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen. While some will point to the irony of this song being a cautionary tale about the dangers of drug addiction since Dee Dee would meet his death at the hands of the disease several years later. I think it speaks to an element of addiction many of us on the outside fail to see, and that was Dee Dee could see he was destroying himself … but he could never write that. Instead he wrote a song about Sid and Nancy’s demise projecting his own existence into the song. It’s highly possible I am reading into this song, far too much, given that hindsight is 20/20 but all I could think when I heard it, was this sounds like as much of a confession as a tribute.

Though never released in the US, the album’s lead single “My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes to Bitburg)” may be the perfect combination of everything the band had done in recent years. The song undoubtedly rocks, as Johnny’s guitar work is loud and the riffs are simply killer and memorable, Joey’s vocals were amongst the most strident he’d recorded up to that point, and the song was still able to incorporate keyboards which brings back in elements of the Phil Spector sound found on End of the Century. The song, an indictment of Ronald Reagan’s visit to a military cemetery in Bitburg, West Germany due to German soldiers and SS soldiers being there may have seemed politically for a band with mainstream success in the mid-eighties. However, Reagan’s trip was unpopular with most Americans, veteran’s groups, and the entirety of Congress. It is worth noting Johnny Ramone, who was a well-known conservative and Reagan supporter, may have taken issue with the song’s message.

There are moments the album falls flat on its face though, when the band tries to slow things down such as on “She Belongs To Me,” it sounds almost forced in comparison to the rest of the material. This isn’t to say the band couldn’t pull off softer material, “Danny Says,” is a beautiful song. But, amongst everything else on the album the slower songs sounded like a forced attempt at melodic balladry, rather than songs that happened to be slower and softer. The band would fall into the same pitfall of forcing a sound with the Dee Dee penned and sang “Eat That Rat” which eschewed the band’s great sense of melody and vocal hooks for a rather sophomoric attempt at sounding like a hardcore band.

Despite the high points being higher than they’d been in some time, the low points were still there and, in some instances, lower than they’d been on recent albums. When the band fired on all cylinders and knew who and what they wanted to sound like, they succeeded better than they had in almost a decade. When the sound became forced, they sounded more uncomfortable and musically tenuous than they ever had in their career. Johnny was always concerned about it sounding like they sold out, which is something I don’t think the band ever did. However, it’s also highly possible that dedication to having a sound that was pure and distinct, kept some of the best ideas on this album from ever being fully developed into the songs they had the potential to be.