CJ Ramone - American Beauty (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

CJ Ramone

American Beauty (2017)

Fat Wreck Chords

CJ Ramone is probably in one of the toughest positions among artists in the current punk scene. For his solo career he has taken on the huge responsibility of continuing the legacy of the Ramones. That is not an easy task because with each new release of his he has to do a very careful balancing act of staying true to the Ramones’ original sound, while adding his personal style and influences to it. For his first record Reconquista (which is totally underrated) he stuck pretty close to the down-stroke dominated sound that we all know and love. For Last Chance To Dance CJ used the Ramones’ formula as sort of a base, ventured out a bit and infused other genres like surf and heavy metal into those songs. Taking the risk was worth it because Ramones fans truly enjoyed that record overall. Now CJ Ramone is back with his third full-length American Beauty where once again he successfully maintains that balance between staying true to the Ramones’ sound while adding some new twists to it at the same time.

The first track “Let’s Go” is very reminiscent of late-70’s era Ramones, which is a great way to start off the album. It has a hard-hitting and simple guitar chord progression with lyrics that also are a bit of throwback to that time period. A lot of the same can be said for the track “Run Around.” The repetitive lyrics in the extremely fun and catchy chorus sound like Joey could have easily sang it. It also seems like with each release CJ’s vocals continue to get better and with “Run Around” especially you can hear that his vocal range is gotten wider. Where he does venture off from the Ramones is his inclusion of guitar solos through out American Beauty (the same can be said for his other albums as well), which in this case spices the song up just right. The large amount of hammer-on’s and pull-off’s makes the song veer off into a bit of a heavy metal vibe and it fits in quite well.

So those were some of the songs on American Beauty where CJ stuck pretty close to the Ramones’ sound, but the parts that should get you really excited are where he mixes things up. “Without You,” which has a much more later and choppy Ramones sound is different in that CJ shares the lead vocals. Interestingly, not only did CJ rewrite Tom Waits’s “Pony” into a full-fledged punk tune, but with the help of Mariachi El Bronx’s horn section he also gave it this Latin and/or Western feel to it. But “Pony” was not the biggest surprise on this album. The track “Tommy’s Gone” is the most eye-opening by far. This track shows us a darker and more somber side of CJ’s music that we have not heard yet. “Tommy’s Gone” is a bit of sequel to his song “Three Angels,” which is found on Reconquista and is about Joey, Johnny and Dee. Seeing how Tommy died in the summer of 2014 it is totally fitting that CJ would dedicate a song to him on this record. While “Three Angels” is an electric guitar-heavy punk tune, “Tommy’s Gone” is completely acoustic. Everything from the string plucking to the vocal melodies are very melancholy. And lyrics like “How did it feel to watch them go?/ And take away everything that you know/Did it hurt to watch from so far away?“ are just heart-wrenchingly brutal. It’s a perfect tribute to someone who gave so much to make the Ramone’s the legendary band that they are considered to be today.

Once again CJ Ramone managed to record an album that not only pays great tribute to the band he helped continue until 1996, while also keeping the Ramones sound fresh. His song-writing and vocals get better and better with each release and American Beauty is no exception. Fans of the Ramones and CJ’s past solo work will be extremely happy with this album. I’m sure Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy are looking down and totally rocking out to it.