Joey Ramone

The Ramones always embraced paradoxical concepts -- they were intelligently stupid, subtly crude and maximally minimal. But nothing can prepare you for the conflicting emotions engendered by Joey Ramone's Don't Worry About Me.

Joey's last release is one of the most optimistic albums you'll hear this year, but also the saddest, the work of a man who still has something to say after a quarter-century-plus career. Recorded over the five-year period between the Ramones' final album and Joey's death last April, Don't Worry is, of all things, an adult rock 'n' roll album -- not what you'd expect from a man who started his career singing "Beat on the Brat." But then again, we now live in a world where the introduction from "Blitzkrieg Bop," which once frightened radio DJs and old hippies, is used to sell cars.

From the album's opening fanfare -- a circular riff nicked from the Sex Pistols' "Pretty Vacant" that leads into a charged cover of "It's a Wonderful World" -- to the vulnerable sneer of the title cut that ends the disc, it's the work of a man who is trying to come to terms with that new world. It's not that the sound has changed so much -- Joey was always the poppy, Beach Boys/Phil Spector/girl group- loving Ramone. What's changed is the adult emotions the songwriter was forced to deal with. "Stop Thinking About It" could have been just another snotty punk tune, but it's sung in an avuncular drawl that's strangely reassuring. And from just about anyone else, "Maria Bartiromo" would have been embarrassingly pretentious; here it's another slice of a latter-day Ramone's life. And anyone who can sit through "I Got Knocked Down (But I'll Get Up)," the Who tribute (including Marky Ramone's Keith Moon-style drum rolls), "Mr. Punchy" or "Searching for Something" and not be touched deserves to listen to the pallid faux punk rock that L.A.'s KROQ has lately foisted upon the nation.

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Steve Mirkin