Mondo Bizarro (1992)

Mondo Bizarro (1992)

Let’s take a second to appreciate Johnny Ramone. His conservative bent — culminating in the “God bless President Bush and God bless America” signoff in his Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame acceptance speech — eventually tore a chunk out of his rep. Over time, everyone realized that all those leads were played by Walter Lure and Daniel Rey. Eventually, the party line tagged Johnny as the minder, signing off on rush-job records so they could go out and rack up the tour receipts. And yeah, Johnny’s frugality spawned some legendary tales. It also put the Ramones firmly in the pantheon. By policing the fragile personalities of his bandmates — insisting on night after night of tight sets crammed with fan favorites, always advocating a sped-up, stripped-down sound, recruiting C.J. Ramone for both his pliability and vitality — he transitioned the band from heroes to legends. Year after year, the band was good for 100 sets of communal, joyous punk rock, spreading the Ramones gospel to England, Spain, Brazil, Japan and beyond. He was the band’s own Paul McCartney, the savvy nudnik who willed the ship to stay afloat. Blondie called it quits in ’82, Talking Heads followed nine years later. Television broke up, reformed, then went on hiatus before the Ramones packed it in. And, of course, a host of hardcore luminaries came and went.

Joey believed in the Ramones, too. But he yearned for connection; Johnny craved security. So night after night, these boys-no-longer donned the jackets and jeans and gave folks the show of a lifetime: chants and signs and classic cuts and the Pinhead. They’d chosen their costumes and pseudonyms in order to more easily conquer Middle America; now, it kept Weirdo America in thrall. Three years elapsed between Brain Drain and Mondo Bizarro; they filled the gap with a brutal touring schedule, introducing C.J. to every conceivable market. The desire for Ramones product was sated with reissues of the first four records, as well as a video collection. Hotshots like Eddie Vedder, Soundgarden and Metallica lined up to pay homage. Meanwhile, Dee Dee toiled in the background, a ghost of a ghostwriter.

So when they finally greeted the Nineties with the half-assed Mondo Bizarro, it didn’t matter. There’s hardly a worthwhile song on the set, despite the presence of old hand Ed Stasium. By now, the Ramones’ sound was no longer frantic perfect-world pop. It was Joey, bellowing over buzzy hard rock. And still, Mondo couldn’t fulfill even that easy promise: C.J. sings lead on two Dee Dee/Daniel Rey compositions: “Strength to Endure” and “Main Man.” (The latter, tragically, does not refer to Lobo at all.) C.J. didn’t suffer from his predecessor’s inability to play bass and sing simultaneously, which is kind of a shame; when he’s not rounding his vowels in tribute to Joey, he’s a bar-band punk-rock crooner, straining to put his thin timbre over. But on the low-end, he’s definitely an asset, allowing the band to include a drop-out passage in “Take It As It Comes” (a Doors cover, down to the quarter-scale haunted-house organ) and pay proper tribute to the British Invasion on “I Won’t Let It Happen.”

In more than one sense, the addition of C.J. was fan service, so what’s the harm in a little lyrical pandering? A smarmy response to the PMRC that’s seven years too late, “Censorshit” doesn’t get any wittier than the title. The carnival-midway hardcore of “The Job That Ate My Brain” finds the boys pondering their ultimate horror: a 9-to-5. But the cheesiest dish is “It’s Gonna Be Alright,” “dedicated to our fans across the world.” A Joey/Andy Shernoff joint, it’s a check-in with the fan club, assuring us that “all is very well, C.J. is here.” Also, “wild hair is back in style” and 1992 is “the year of the monkey, gonna be real funky.” Longtime fans probably picked up the poignancy inherent in the line “it’s gonna be that you’re the only ones that understand.” Album closer “Touring” expands on those promises, laying out the itinerary, assuring the listener that the road life’s a gas. (What wall of silence?) The track is straight pastiche, a doofy mixture of “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker,” “Rockaway Beach” — which gets a namecheck — and a dozen surf-pop hits. BGV heroes Flo & Eddie offer too-zippy whoops; they understood a put-on when they heard it. The Ramones tabbed Samuel Bayer to provide a Samuel Bayer video — their one nod to modernity — for Dee Dee’s excellent AOR anthem “Poison Heart.” The video stiffed. The next time the band hit the studio, it was to expand on the Doors cover, resulting in the K-Tel-worthy Acid Eaters.

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