Calling All Pinheads

We're a Happy Family: A Tribute to the Ramones (Radioactive)
Various Artists

By Kevin Gibson

It isn't easy for a band to make a Ramones song its own. Let's face it, not many besides Joey Ramone can really pull off singing the lyrics, "Beat on the brat with a baseball bat/oh yeah, oh yeah, oh-oh," without looking like a complete idiot. But there are some game efforts on this much-anticipated tribute and a few of them actually succeed.

Unlike your typical Ramones album, this one starts off on a smooth note rather than in a frenzy, with the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Latin-infused take on "Havana Affair." Metallica has some fun - although doesn't do much to personalize - "53rd and 3rd," while Pete Yorn turns in a warm "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend," and "Something to Believe In" becomes a yearning ballad in the Pretenders' hands. Perhaps the best track on the album is by the least-known artist: L.A. teen band Rooney's Brit-pop spin on "Hear Today, Gone Tomorrow" positively sparkles.

As for U2's version of "Beat on the Brat," it's mildly humorous to hear Bono's raspy whisper delivery, but I'm not so sure he was trying to be funny. Nevertheless, it works reasonably well. KISS also delivers an acceptable take on "Do You Remember Rock `n' Roll Radio," and Garbage does good work with "I Just Want to Have Something to Do."But it has to be said: Marilyn Manson butchers "The KKK Took My Baby Away." Meanwhile, Green Day and Rancid deliver renditions of "Outsider" and "Sheena is a Punk Rocker," respectively, with no surprises at all - just straight ahead, note-for-note mimicry. Ditto the Offspring's "I Wanna Be Sedated."

All things considered, it's probably best to keep in mind that We're a Happy Family is just a tribute album, not an ambitious work of art or invention. This is just a bunch of high-profile bands getting together to record songs they probably wish like hell they had written. If you're a die-hard Ramones fan, you'll want this in your collection but probably won't listen to it more than a handful of times. If you're not familiar with the Ramones' music, don't even bother. Buy Rocket to Russia instead.