Review

At once a tribute and a perfect calling card for an Anglophonic audience, Learning English is a hilarious romp through a slew of punk classics (and not-exactly classics) that's impossible to resist. Sure, many might want to hear the originals instead, but the fact remains that the quartet didn't become huge in their native country for nothing -- if the need is for loud, three-chord classics and shoutalong choruses, Die Toten Hosen can deliver in spades and with plenty of spirit. What seems like a gimmick -- the participation of at least one member from every band covered on the appropriate song -- actually makes Learning English feel like a great party album, with everyone taking a turn at the mike. If some voices are a bit thrashed with time, it's still good to hear everyone from Joey Ramone and the Damned's Captain Sensible to Chelsea's Gene October and Knox from the Vibrators take a bow. Even escaped U.K. convict Ronald Biggs, famous for his association with the post-Rotten Sex Pistols, takes a bow with "Punk Was," the one original on the album and a nostalgia-filled celebration. The choice of songs throughout may seem idiosyncratic -- one really needs to know U.K. punk to recognize tracks like "Do You Remember" by the Rockafellas and "Love and a Molotov Cocktail" by the Flys. But the great performances on such unquestioned monsters from the spirit of 1977 like "If the Kids Are United," "Smash It Up," and "Gary Gilmore's Eyes" -- not to mention "Born to Lose," one of the last recordings featuring Johnny Thunders before his death -- rule the roost. Add in detailed liner notes from the band expressing their sheer delight at working with their heroes and a slew of memorabilia from the members' punk-crazed youth, plus between-song clips from a fake language instruction record (thus the album title), and the result is great fun. ~ Ned Raggett, Rovi

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