I have read a couple of these little Continuum books (Exile On Main Street, Kick Out The Jams, Pet Sounds) but "Ramones" rather lets the side down. Whereas the others crackle with the excitement of having been there at the time (alebit at a distance in some cases) Nicholas Rombes didn't hear the Ramones until years after the culture shock of their first album. It's a worthy study and there are some interesting factoids but once you've read the extract on the back cover you've read his most impassioned prose and all that awaits you inside is a worthy but ultimately dull sociology essay. If I were unkind I'd say it was almost something of an achievement to make a book about the Ramones so unexciting. Hey, ho, let's go...
Bought this thinking it was a book about the first album by RAMONES - it is not. For more than the first half of the book the professor of English waffles on about the social changes in the USA and England, particularly from the 1960s to the mid 70s - BORING! If i wanted a book on that subject i would have bought it, instead of this. The book on MADNESS from the same series that i had read prior to this was exceptional and ticked all the right boxes. It detailed how their first album was recorded and what inspired each song etc. This one only has about 20 pages that are actually dedicated to the RAMONES first album (in which he compares running times of the original demos to the album versions) - YAWN! A MISSED OPPORTUNITY. They guy obviously thinks he's clever but seemingly failed to grasp fully what the subject of this book SHOULD have been about and instead makes up the books contents by stealing lengthy passages from other people's work, books and magazine articles and rambling on about 'were the Ramones serious oe were they being ironic'? Who cares? The Ramones were more about having fun, you idiot! He then goes on at length about the political sygnificance of punk and the Ramones. The Ramones were about as heavyweight politically as pond scum. I finished the book by throwing it hard at the floor so all the pages got damaged before chucking it in the bin. I was that annoyed by it.
As Nicholas Rombes says in his concluding remarks "like all great albums, it resists interpretation. It rejects the tyranny of meaning, whether imposed by the fan or the critic". And so it does; without wishing to make my own attempt, it is one of those very few albums - offhand I would think about only Elvis's first RCA album, the Velvet Underground & Nico and - maybe - Sgt Pepper standing alongside it - which is so unlike anything which preceded it and so influential on everything that followed that almost any kind of criticism risks seeming trivial and irrelevant. But saying that, Nicholas Rombes gives it a damn good go, taking the album - as is appropriate - entirely seriously and devoting less time to the songs themselves than to the context into which it emerged, its influences (largely from writing, film, photography and other media) and its phenomenal impact on the world around it. Refreshing that he respects the amount of thought and consideration that the Ramones themselves put into the album, dissipating any notion that this was a flash in the pan, an accidental catalyst for the emergence of punk and New Wave. You put this essay down very aware that the Ramones knew exactly what they were doing, both culturally and musically. These were no dumb punks.
Nicholas Rombes writes about punk with the benefit of hindsight, but that's no crime - it allows him a tremendously sharp and pungently delivered perspective. If you like this, try 'A Cultural Dictionary of Punk: 1974-1982', which provides a similarly acute analysis of the broader canvas of punk and the new wave.