Various Artists

We're a Happy Family: A Tribute to the Ramones

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In the wake of both Joey's and Dee Dee Ramone's untimely deaths, a Ramones tribute could have been a well-timed reminder of their lasting influence. Unfortunately, We're a Happy Family, a star-studded tribute featuring Metallica, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Garbage, and Eddie Vedder, is a surprisingly bland affair, rarely capturing the passion and energy of the Ramones' best music. Most of the bands seem afraid to change the source material in order to fit their individual sound, leading to faithful, uninspired covers devoid of any personality. U2's "Beat on the Brat" exemplifies this problem; the band performs a note-perfect rendition, but Bono's detached, breathy croon lacks the snotty enthusiasm that makes the song so gleefully absurd. Conversely, a few bands unwittingly butcher the original songs in an attempt to fit them into their sound. Most notably, Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie both take what were short and sarcastic punk songs and turn them into humorless, plodding industrial anthems. Contributions from Kiss, Garbage, and Pete Yorn fair considerably better, if only because they choose songs that fit their style, but only a few artists really try to personalize their performances. The Pretenders focus the intense yearning of "Something to Believe In" into a spacious ballad; Tom Waits transforms "The Return of Jackie and Judy" into a wild backwoods blues song; and the Red Hot Chili Peppers add waves of melancholy guitar to their Latin-flavored reworking of "Havana Affair." These are the only moments when you can experience the Ramones' familiar songwriting while savoring the performers' distinct sound; it's disappointing that more bands didn't try it. We're a Happy Family is built on good intentions, but ultimately it's too uneven and rarely reflects the blunt honesty, brutal sarcasm, and pure fun that reside at the core of their best music.

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