RAMONES – Road to Ruin – 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition (Rhino 2018)

ROAD TO RUIN cover

When ROAD TO RUIN was released in September 1978, it was the first of many watershed moments for the Ramones. Where the first 3 albums were a natural progression of the Ramones template, the 4th consciously attempted to scrub the band up as a commercial entity. It didn’t quite fuck with the formula in the way that END OF THE CENTURY did, but definitely approached the production with an airplay-friendly gloss.

Although not sonically lopsided like the follow-up, this album juggled a wider spectrum of material – Standard (but often not outstanding) Ramones compositions mixed with acoustic tracks, 60’s pop, guitar solos & chirpy ballads. The Ramones at their best were artfully negative and despite a couple of songs about sedation and bad brains, the overlying positivity in ROAD TO RUIN kind of normalises the album… whether this is to its benefit or detriment is a matter of taste. Clearly, they were frustrated by Blondie’s success and attempting to tear corners off the same dollar.

Raising their commercial game no doubt made perfect sense for a while, and this is certainly not a bad record, but it must have felt like somewhat of a flaccid miss-step once the mighty IT’S ALIVE album was released 7 months later. Arguably the single most representative piece of their catalogue, the IT’S ALIVE recording (December 31, 1977) predated ROAD TO RUIN material and consolidated the band’s strength as the trashing, confident and reliable live entity they would remain for the rest of their career. ROAD TO RUIN sold poorly and the subsequent quest for commerciality while attempting to preserve punk integrity definitely caused the Ramones to stumble aimlessly through their next 3 studio albums.

But all this prodding of ancient history is immaterial when retrospect has long reassessed and reclassified the album as a classic. I certainly didn’t think of it that way when I first heard this as a teenager (around a decade after its original release) – It wasn’t ROCKET TO RUSSIA or ANIMAL BOY… or even BRAIN DRAIN when that came along… it filled a gap in the Ramones timeline but wasn’t really what I wanted from the band.

This is the 4th Ramones Rhino Deluxe Edition. Similar to the treatment of the first three albums, it’s a vinyl record and 3 CDs in a 12×12 hardback book packaging. ON CD one, the basic re-master of the album is what it is… digital spit and polish TLC on a 1970’s recording. I’m guessing this is simply the Rhino re-master from 2001 when the label first overhauled a chunk of the Ramones catalogue. Where it gets interesting is Ed Stasium‘s 40th Anniversary Road Revisited Mix. It is instantly apparent that this has taken the approach of reverse engineering the diet-Ramones production of original and stripping the recording back to something more worthy of that original run of classic records. Amongst many other things, the original ROAD TO RUIN seemed to bury the bass, discarding sonic egalitarianism and focusing heavily on guitar production. This mix has Johnny and Dee Dee panned about 80% left and right respectively… the way it should be. I would imagine that aiming for the hard pan of their debut would throw the album off kilter, given that it’s a more complex recording, but it really beefs up/dumbs down the tracks. Snippets of studio banter and count-ins have also been left in to fray the edges. I definitely approve!

ROAD TO RUIN deluxe

Where this all really makes a difference is on DON’T COME CLOSE – even if it sounds a little odd without their first ever guitar solo… NEEDLES AND PINS – has infinitely more personality than the produced version… and QUESTIONINGLY – a rudimentary backing without frills only serves to demonstrate Joey’s wonderful vocal performance.

This is a refreshingly primitive ROAD TO RUIN… The only thing that becomes glaringly obvious throughout the whole exercise is the total absence of Dee Dee’s backing vocals on the album… Come to think of it, there isn’t any mention at all of ROAD TO RUIN in his 1997 autobiography POISON HEART – SURVIVING THE RAMONES… (although that book was a dubious mess of recollections and hardly reliable reference material!)…

I will politely refer to CD two as the dregs disc. Reissues serve a very real purpose, but when the word “Deluxe” is added, it generally means, “get your credit card ready”. The shrewd business of plundering vaults for “lost” items, questionable takes and not-very-alternate mixes births many of these dust-gathering, ephemera-filled anniversary editions. Their worth as collectable/display items is definitely tangible, but the newly excavated matter within is often Styrofoam at best. I WALK OUT and the excellent S.L.U.G (wasn’t this a Rocket To Russia out-take?) are followed by a couple of thoroughly uninteresting single mixes and a slew of even less interesting basic rough mixes. An audiophile might argue their worth, but you’ve got bigger problems in real life if you’re associating with audiophiles! There’s a pointless I DON’T WANT YOU brit-pop mix, 3 boring acoustic versions of the album’s ballads and the 1988 RAMONESMANIA peripheral, I WANNA BE SEDATED (Ramones-On-45 Mega Mix) to round things off – this, at least, is a fun curiosity that doesn’t over-value itself.

But apart from Ed Stasium‘s 40th Anniversary remix, what I’m really curious about is CD3, the live disc. This is the first official release of a complete set recorded on New Year’s Eve 1979 at the Palladium in New York (exactly 2 years after the IT’S ALIVE set at the Rainbow in London). The notes for the recording state that it was originally mixed live for a radio broadcast by Ed Stasium “with audio sourced from Tommy Ramone’s original cassette of the console recording”, suggesting that elements of both were combined to restore it. The radio broadcast has previously been in circulation as the 1234 DIE bootleg, a presentable warts & all live document, but this new version has been lovingly produced and really energises the set. It makes for interesting comparison with the IT’S ALIVE album – tracks from the first 5 albums blasted out in a live setting, all sitting side by side, without the disparity that various album productions created. And it’s worth noting that this comes only 6 weeks before the release of END OF THE CENTURY (the EOTC tracks in the set are THIS AIN’T HAVANA, ALL THE WAY and CHINESE ROCK).

A bit of Internet snooping tells me there are definite plans to give END OF THE CENTURY the same treatment. A logical move given that it still stands as their best seller, but how far beyond that will Rhino go? … Does anyone in their right mind want to fork out for 3+ hours of SUBTERRANEAN JUNGLE mixes and outtakes? Rhino press up 7500 of each of these things and apparently people are happy to buy them… most likely people who already have the albums – This is difficult to make sense of. When there’s so much other music available, it seems like an obsessive and depressingly costly exercise to chase sonic rainbows looking for “lost” sound-bite-gold that wasn’t good enough to release first time around…

ROAD TO RUIN was a solid part of the Ramones catalogue, but I can’t help thinking it is held in higher regard that the likes of MONDO BIZARRO, iADIOS AMIGOS, ANIMAL BOY and TOO TOUGH TO DIE because of where it sits on the timeline, not because it’s a better album.

Get it here…

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