The Ramones of the ’70s are iconic. They were at the vanguard of punk, and arguably pop punk, and created songs that are still considered classics of the genre today. You go to a sporting event, you hear “Blitzkrieg Bop.” Their look was easily recognizable, and influential. They appeared in Rock ‘N’ Roll High School. Then came 1980’s End of the Century which was, in its own way, the end of an era for the band. By 1995, when they released their final studio album Adios Amigos!, they were no longer part of the zeitgeist. They were an afterthought, and they weren’t even the same band.
The change from Tommy to Marky on the drums had happened a while back, with a brief stay from Richie in there as well, and, in truth, changing the drummer isn’t really going to rile up many people. However, by the time of Adios Amigos!, Dee Dee was also all but gone, although his presence is still felt on the album, as he is credited as the writer on many of the songs, including a handful from other projects of his. He had been replaced with C.J. Ramone, who was given a lot of credit by his bandmates for bringing some much-needed youthful energy to the band. C.J. could only do so much, though. This was a band that had been releasing music for 20 years. Nobody could blame them for being burnt out.
Adios Amigos! begins with the iconic “1, 2, 3, 4!” count off that was synonymous with the band, but after that it feels decidedly like warmed-over Ramones. Now, this could be where one would break out the old chestnut about how even bad pizza is pretty good, and how the same can be said for the Ramones. The Ramones were still making the music they’ve made for years. Charging guitars. Simple drumbeats. Although, they do slow it down a bit more than they did in the past, in part to ease the strain on Joey’s vocals. He gets to croon a bit, and he’s not half-bad at it.
The album is hit-or-miss. In addition to the songs from Dee Dee, there is a cover of Tom Waits’ “I Don’t Want to Grow Up” and Johnny Thunders’ “I Love You.” They are both fine. “Fine” is about the highest level this album achieves. “Life’s a Gas” is pretty good, but also goes on a bit too long. In the end, the songs that Joey sings on are reminiscent of the glory days of the Ramones. The issue is that on four of the tracks, C.J. takes the lead vocals. One of the song, “Scattergun,” is OK, but the others are abysmal. Of course, one of those songs is “The Crusher” from Dee Dee’s brief time as a rapper, so C.J. can’t take all of the blame. Nevertheless, it’s one of the worst things ever recorded for posterity.
Dee Dee’s impact on the album is felt in his songwriting, but his only tangible appearance is on the final song “Born to Die in Berlin,” wherein he (literally) phones it in from Germany. None of the original Ramones (Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, and Tommy) would die in Berlin, but they have all now passed away. Three of them have been dead for over a decade now. However, those Ramones weren’t the Ramones by the time the band was winding it all down. Adios Amigos! isn’t a stain on their legacy by any means. It has its moments, and it sounds like the Ramones, which has merit. Based on their album title, obviously, they knew this was the end. They didn’t go down in a blaze of glory, but at least they said goodbye without embarrassing themselves.