Revisiting Ramones’ Last Album of the ’80s, ‘Brain Drain’
Though their glory days appeared to have concluded along with the '70s, punk rock’s founding heroes, the Ramones, continued to churn out album after album with almost religious dependability throughout the '80s. It culminated in their 11th LP, Brain Drain, released on March 23, 1989.
Brain Drain's recording was not a happy time for the group, which by this time had become almost irreparably damaged by the wear and grind of touring, assorted personal demons and substance abuse, not to mention the sheer frustration of a life lived in the rock and roll trenches with little hope of improvement.
And yet, hope still sprung eternal in the Ramones’ almost child-like state of suspended animation — as evidenced by Brain Drain’s impossibly optimistic opener, "I Believe in Miracles," its conciliatory closer "Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight)" and the notable return of beloved drummer Marky Ramone, after a five-year absence.
Sandwiched in between were a dozen stabs of typically unpretentious punk rock in the lauded Ramones tradition like "Zero Zero UFO," "All Screwed Up" and the almost hardcore-intense "Ignorance is Bliss" — but to say they were any more distinctive than recent efforts would be a stretch (plus, there was a new, suspiciously metallic tone to Johnny’s guitar to match a foreign hardcore bite about some of Joey’s vocals).
To be fair, some tunes were indeed a cut above the rest, including the prickly "Don’t Bust My Chops," the anthemic "Punishment Fits the Crime" and Joey’s innocently obsessed "Can’t Get You Out of My Mind." But Brain Drain’s singular standout was the unusually melodic "Pet Sematary."
A song inspired by, and composed-to-order, at the bequest of bestselling horror author Stephen King (a self-professed Ramones mega-fan) for the soundtrack to his movie by the same title, "Pet Sematary" greatly benefited from this mainstream association and went on to become one of the band’s most successful radio and video hits, but it still couldn’t push Brain Drain’s sales to unusual heights.
And of course the punk rock gods giveth and taketh away: now that Marky was back in the “happy” family, it was bassist (and chief songwriter) Dee Dee’s turn to take his leave, in order to embark on an ill-fated, much-derided (and thankfully short-lived) rap career under the name of Dee Dee King.
Luckily, Dee Dee would carry on contributing songs (usually the best ones!) to "da brudders'" next few studio albums (while letting his mini-me replacement, C.J., tour in his place), but things would never really be the same for the Ramones and, by 1996, they were history - albeit rock and roll history, at least.