Ramones – Brain Drain (1989)

Ramones released their 11th studio album, Brain Drain, on March 23, 1989, through Sire Records, with Pet Sematary being the only single release.

Even though Dee Dee Ramone wrote in his autobiography, Lobotomy: Surviving the Ramones, that it was tough for him to record the Brain Drain album because everyone took their shit out on him. He explained that he dreaded being around the band and it drove him away, which ultimately resulted in him not even playing bass on the album, he sang lead on Punishment Fits The Crime, though. Dee Dee mentioned that everybody in the band had problems; girlfriend problems, money problems, mental problems.

I didn’t know much about the Ramones and their inter-band problems. A friend gave me a copy of Brain Drain and I loved the roughness of their sound and their I-don’t-give-a-s*** attitude.

The album

I Believe In Miracles kicks off the album with the entire band punching in with the very first beat. The verse is rough and animates to nod – or better, bang – your head. The chorus, then, introduces more melody and nice harmonies. AS simple as the song might sound, it is by now one of my favourite Ramones songs.

Zero Zero Ufo is a typical fast-paced Ramones tune characterised by a two-chord verse. The song is a good sequel to the opener, but not necessarily what I would call a classic.

Don’t Bust My Chops brings down the tempo to a more danceable feel, which I prefer in this context. Also, I really like the title of the song and the atmosphere created by the music. It simply matches. Would have been one of my favourite Ramones tunes to hear live at a gig. – Yes, you guessed right. I’ve never seen the band live in concert. Unfortunately.

Punishment Fits The Crime follows the pace of its predecessor song and adds a more anthem-like chorus. This is another favourite Ramones song of mine. Dee Dee wrote the song with Richie Stotts and sang the lead vocals in this one, which turned out fantastic. Truly an excellent song!

All Screwed Up is characterised by its happy-feel. It is the first song on the album bringing some sunshine-mood to the listener’s ears. Up until now the songs radiated a rather dark and – dare I say – angrier mood. This uplifting song is definitely a welcomed change.

Palisander Park is a cover song written by Chuck Barris and recorded by Freddy Cannon in 1962. Not sure if it’s a good fit for this album, but I still enjoyed it. It seems as if the Ramones were trying to build a bridge between the uplifting All Screwed Up and the next song.

Pet Sematary is the only single release off of Brain Drain. Wikipedia writes that “the song is originally written for the Stephen King movie adaptation of the same name. The single became one of the Ramones’ biggest radio hits, and a staple in their concerts during the 1990s.” Besides the song being a master-piece in rock history, it also tops most Ramones productions in terms of musicality, songwriting, and recording. To this day, Pet Sematary is my all-time favourite Ramones song. I remember reading Stephen King’s book and listening to this song on replay for hours.

Learn To Listen brings the listener back to a more typical Ramones atmosphere: Rough, less elaborate, but with an extra portion of kick-ass! I especially enjoyed the stereo guitar solo.

Can’t Get You Outta My Mind hits the speakers in a more elaborated musical attire, which means, smart choirs, more interesting chord progressions, and clever musical arrangements. One of the stronger songs on the album.

Ignorance Is Bliss is the first double-tempo song on Brain Drain. Back then I didn’t know about the Ramones and simply liked the fast-pace of the song. Later on, I started being surprised by the lack of double-tempo songs on this album. I mean, the Ramones were regarded as punk-rock pioneers, which implies very fast and brachial beat. …plus, I simply enjoyed double-tempo songs.

Come Back, Baby brings us colourful and uplifting melodies and harmonies, similar as All Screwed Up. Definitely a good point to bring them, because the album is about to close anyways.

The Ramones decided to end the album with what I consider to be one of the best Christmas tunes every written: Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight). Especially, the line ‘I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight’ speaks from the heart of anyone celebrating Christmas with a big family. The song might sound cheesy and cliché, but ain’t that what any Christmas tune is supposed to sound like? The song is based on a typical I-I-IV-V chord progression and has a beautifully cheesy chorus. Simply, 2 minutes of most melancholic and honest Christmas feelings.

IMHO

Brain Drain is my favourite Ramones album for one simple reason: It was the first album I ever heard and owned of the band. No other Ramones album has ever captivated me the way this one has. Full of melancholy, rough, and with some larger-than-life attitudes, Brain Drain has accompanied me for more than 20 years.

Even though not all songs can be classified as iconic, anthems, or even excellent, they all are legitimate Ramones tunes and all make sense in the given context – even the cover song Palisander Park. The production isn’t perfect or high-end, but there’s no need for it. I prefer a rough production to a polished one that has little or no spirit left in it. The lyrics fit the music perfectly and some clever lines can be found when listened to carefully. A little manco is that not all songs come with the same mix concept. I prefer when everything comes out of one bag – so to speak. But after years of listening to Brain Drain, I got accustomed to it and don’t mind anymore.

Album grade:
Lyrics 7/10
Musicianship 7/10
Production 7/10
Concept 7/10
Total grade: 7/10

Sebastiano Mereu

YouTuber + host of the #FHTZ online music show with co-producer @simonkurt + marketing & digital content producer + university lecturer