Don't Worry About Me
Released a few months after he died of cancer (at age 49) and just a few weeks before his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, this solo debut and final farewell from punk's most beloved icon can't help but bring to mind some of rock-and-roll's other great posthumous statements -- John Lennon's Double Fantasy, Nirvana's MTV Unplugged, Notorious B.I.G.'s Life After Death, Otis Redding's "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay." But the key difference with Don't Worry About Me is that it was crafted, without getting too morbid about it, with full knowledge that death was imminent.
And so this is Ramone's self-written epitaph, so carefully constructed -- a 10-song center with bookend covers followed by a farewell coda -- that the effect must be intentional. A simple if more fleshed-out and slightly slowed Ramones-style riffage reigns throughout, including the aforementioned covers of the Louis Armstrong-indentified "What a Wonderful World" and the Stooges' "1969." Ramone makes both sound like standards and complementary pieces to the same life puzzle -- the lovestruck/awestruck "yes" and shiftless, insouciant "no" that equally animated the Ramones' best music.
Much of the record comments --directly or indirectly -- on Ramone's medical condition. On "Stop Thinking About It," he advises a visitor, "Ahh, nothing lasts forever/And nothing stays the same/Feeling numb all over and totally deranged/When you finally make your mind up/I'll be buried in my grave." "Spirit In My House" ("I got a spirit in my house and I know it ain't no mouse") and "Like a Drug I Never Did Before" are more oblique. And then there's "I Got Knocked Down (But I'll Get Up)," which is fiercely, and movingly, confrontational, with Ramone spitting out a punk-rock analysis of terminal illness -- "I, I want life/I want my life/It really sucks" -- before launching into the chorus. But despite all this, Don't Worry About Me is far from morbid, and, in fact, the high point --the most touching and anthemic and just plain weird moment on the record --comes with "Maria Bartiromo," where Ramone takes a break from IV drips and nurse visits to pen a musical mash note to cable television's most fetching financial reporter, crooning, "I watch you on the TV every single day/Those eyes make everything okay." And so when the title song closes things out, it doesn't sound like a weepy goodbye but a triumphant send-off from a guy who deserved nothing less. -- Chris Herrington
Walking With Thee
It seems like everything about music you read these days is someone whining about the downfall of the music industry or about why there's no good stuff anymore. Well, I might as well add another complaint to the stack: Why is it that Radiohead can debut number one with art-rock that's arid and distancing, but these Radiohead cohorts and endorsees can't even crack the Hot 200 with art-rock that's as warm and pleasurable as Bo Diddley? Because this bunch of Liverpool pranksters called Clinic are what Radiohead would sound like if they were a rock-and-roll band rather than just a rock one.
After a decade of lounge-rock schmoes and post-rock sourpusses, we finally get a band who rifles through rock's cluttered closet to play dress-up but does so without laughing at their own jokes. "Harmony" opens the record with keyboards that split the difference between slasher movie and Ennio Morricone. "The Bridge" opens with a cowbell, like a futuristic "Honky Tonk Women." "The Equalizer" contains percussion that sounds like clanking bottles but gives way at the two-minute mark to a "funky drummer" break that Public Enemy would be proud of. And the whole thing is suffused with the hearth-like organ drone that's comforted bohemians from ? and the Mysterians to Yo La Tengo. But for all of the pop bricolage going on here, half the time Clinic reminds me of music they sound nothing like: The way songs build to peaks of tension then abruptly and dramatically end evokes the perversely brilliant instrumental coda of Prince's "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man."
Walking With Thee can't match the sonic sugar rush of last year's debut Internal Wrangler, partly because the shock of the new has worn off but mostly because it's just a little bit more tame. Only on "Pet Eunuch" do they really let the dogs out, unleashing the kind of effed-up surf-guitar assault that made Internal Wrangler such an ecstatic listen. Other than that, Walking With Thee is more mid-tempo. Actual songs replace Internal Wrangler's sharp pop shards and ruins. But just because they have more lyrics now doesn't mean that words are any more central to the music. This is still a band with much more going on sonically than verbally. On Internal Wrangler, my fave lyric was cribbed from the Velvet Underground; on Walking With Thee it's a bit of unintelligible-at-any-speed that I'd translate like this: "Oh beak it back oh beak it boo oh beak it oh oh oh/Meet the past meet the bastard oh oh OH-OH-OH-OH!" -- CH
I Break Chairs
Damien Jurado And Gathered In Song
The rock bug has been biting folkies ever since a well-timed "Judas!" was leveled at Dylan and the Byrds decided to jumpstart American psychedelia with a self-parody. But now, regardless of age, the suitcases have either formed under our collective eyes or the cynicism has hardened our ears, and Damien Jurado's current choice of Uncle Tupelo via HÅsker DÅ worship will, at best, momentarily raise an eyebrow rather than inciting genre formation. Not that he cares, really. We're looking at a guy who followed three albums of Nick Drake-isms with an album that consisted entirely of edited tapes pulled from thrift-shop answering machines (2000's Postcards and Audio Letters). That's what I call eyebrow-raising, but you probably missed that one unless you are um like me and derive entertainment from listening to complete strangers leaving creepy phone messages. And despite my initial despondency, I can't help but pull some easy pleasure from I Break Chairs.
A scattered half of this album could easily be an early Sunny Day Real Estate record -- not out of place considering that SDRE frontman/pastor/nutjob Jeremy Enigk brought Jurado to Sub Pop in the mid-'90s -- and the other half could be a loud, riff-oriented, insurgent country release or "college rock," as your older brother used to call it. Eccentric, lyrically droll, and very open about being stuffed to the gills with antidepressants, Jurado offers a needed additive to indie-rock (or whatever it is we're calling it now): a personality. Doesn't hurt matters that he can write a good guitar rave-up either (see "Dancing" for proof) or that he can craft an entire album that I would rather hear on the radio than any faux-intense baggy-pants metal. No pretense for miles and proud of it. -- Andrew Earles