Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Punk Rock Confessions: Animal Boy

In high school, I firmly believed that if you were going to listen to the Ramones, that only the first four albums would suffice. Everything else was weird synth-heavy stuff or experimented with slower tempos or something. To this day I still know plenty of people who think this way.

But to completely ignore the post-Road to Ruin era would be a disservice to anyone who likes pop music. Sure, the Ramones are always going to be known for their buzzing guitars and fast drums but their later material showed a lot of progression that they made as songwriters. Generally speaking, Too Tough to Die is the latter-day Ramones album that is oft-praised as sticking out from the crowd, as it ranges in sound from the furious punk tunes like the Dee Dee-fronted "Wart Hog" or the super 80's sounding "Howlin' at the Moon" but I have a confession to make: Animal Boy is my favorite Ramones album from the aforementioned era.

Clocking in at just over a half hour, Animal Boy is a perfect showcase of what the band was capable of. It follows the same layout as Too Tough to Die, with songs that push their sound in a newer, more radio friendly direction while also containing songs that recall the days of being fast and furious. Unlike Too Tough to Die, however, Animal Boy was recorded by a band who already had experience working with such a collection of songs and, in my humble opinion, that ultimately helped result in a superior album.

Animal Boy spans across several genres. She Belongs to Me is a cheesy 80's love ballad, whereas Love Kills shows how other punk bands like the Pistols had influenced the Ramones themselves (also, it's about Sid and Nancy). Meanwhile, Apeman Hop goes back to the fun, lighthearted songs that the band was initially known for, and Somebody Put Something in My Drink saw the band trying a different approach to being aggressive while still retaining a catchy hook.

With all this in mind, it should come as no surprise that the two best songs on the album are the two longest (both roughly 4 minutes- uncharacteristically long for the Ramones). Midway through the album, listeners are treated to what is probably the best Ramones song ever recorded, My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes to Bitburg). Not only is it a catchy song, but the history behind the song also shows signs of all the disconnect between the bruddas that formed over the years. If you don't know what I'm talking about, you can read about it on the single's Wikipedia page.

Animal Boy's second best song, Something to Believe In, closes out the album on a solid note. It's not something that a 15 year old punk would enjoy, what with its bells and whistles and all (almost quite literally), but the lyrics paint a picture of someone who needs a light in their life and I believe it to be one of Joey's strongest vocal deliveries ever (although Somebody Put Something in My Drink is also up there in terms of Joey's performance). It's a beautiful song and I feel bad for people who refuse to listen to it just because it's not "like the old stuff."

In conclusion, it might not be the most cohesive of Ramones albums with the genre hopping, but Animal Boy really shows the diversity and expanded sounds from a band that is known for only four chords.

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