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Enrique Iglesias capitalizes on post-Sept. 11 sentiments without even trying.

Sad Songs Say So Much

Joey Ramone's 'What a Wonderful World' speaks more deeply than an album full of post-9/11 songs

By Gina Arnold

IT'S NOT OFTEN one hears something on the radio that stops one dead--particularly not something by an artist one already knows and has, in a way, dismissed from the realm of the pertinent. But that's how I felt when I heard Joey Ramone's version of "What a Wonderful World" on KFOG the other day. Of course I knew the song--both the Louis Armstrong and the Flaming Lips versions. And the artist's voice and style were instantly recognizable, too: the same laconic, flat drawl, the same patented instrumentation and beat were so familiar that I couldn't have known the song more intimately if I'd heard it a million times before. Now, they say familiarity breeds contempt, but in this case, I swear, I burst into tears. Joey Ramone passed away last April, but his legacy as a founding member of the Ramones, and this solo record, Don't Worry About Me, live on.

"What a Wonderful World" leads off the album, and I defy anyone who loved the Ramones to hear it without puddling up. Possibly you'd puddle even if you'd never heard the Ramones, the New York City punk-rock band whose songs tend to be hard, fast and frankly unsentimental. Prior to this, Joey's most touching moment was possibly "Pet Semetary," with its poignant chorus, "I don't want to be buried in a pet semetary / I don't want to live my life again." That song's deliberate dumbness pretty much sums up the Ramones oeuvre. But whether you're a fan or not, it's hard to hear a guy who died of a four-year battle with lymphoma singing, "I hear babies crying, I watch them grow / They'll learn much more than I'll never know," without kind of losing it.

There are two other equally sad songs on the album: "I Got Knocked Down (But I'll Get Up"), which goes, "Sitting in a hospital bed, frustration going through my head / I want my life," and the title cut. "Don't Worry About Me" sounds exactly like a Ramones album that's fraught with poignancy--and Joey's version of "What a Wonderful World" is my top entry in the current sad-rock sweepstakes that seems to be what's taking the place of protest music in the post-9/11 world. Apparently, despite rock's avowed role of being controversial, shocking, revolutionary and counterculture, actual protest music would be too controversial for a rock band to risk. Instead, we are getting sad songs--or worse, sappy songs--just like they had back during World War I.

The worst offender is "Hero," by Enrique Iglesias--a number that he cheerfully avows was written long before Sept. 11 and has nothing to do with it. (How could it, with lyrics like "I can be your hero, baby / I can kiss away the pain / I will stand by you forever / You can take my breath away.") Then there's the music on a new compilation put out by the Village Voice titled Love Songs for New York, which contains 18 new tracks all centered around the subject of New York by artists like Moby, Cornershop, Jon Langford and the Mekons, Peter Stampfel, Mo Tucker (of the Velvet Underground), Ari Upp (of the Slits, an all girl-punk band circa '77), Afrikaa Bambaataa and even the much-vaunted new retro shock-rocker Andrew W.K., who's so hyped right now that I was sick of him before I even heard him.

As is the case with many a hyped person, however, it turns out that A.W.K. is pretty good, and certainly his track, "I Love NYC," is one of the strongest on the collection, which, though well intentioned, is an artistic failure. Being sponsored by the Village Voice, the project is almost ridiculously politically correct (that is, if you can get past the fact that, in my humble opinion, newspapers shouldn't release records). So, of course, there's a fair number of non-Western artists like Hakim, Baaba Maal and Sheila Chandra. Every other (read: white) act is an officially approved Village Voice trademarked "artiste," and the songs are some of their worst.

It's not their fault really--they just don't sound inspired, and why should they? The Backstreet Boys might write songs to order, but the Mekons, frankly, don't. Moby's track is so by-the-numbers I could have written it for him. Cornershop, Ari Upp (who includes her 7-year-old son on the recording), Mo Tucker and (surprisingly) Loudon Wainwright III are frankly embarrassing. Proceeds from the album go to the Sept. 11 Fund, but for anyone feeling sad about death and New York, I'd say "Don't Worry About Me" is a lot better--and a lot more comforting--purchase.

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From the March 21-27, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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