The Ramones' eighth studio album is an exhilarating summation of all that they do so well, from the classic thrash of "Mama's Boy" and "Human Kind" to the big-beat balladry of "I'm Not Afraid of Life." But Too Tough to Die is also a significant step forward for this great American band: along with such better-than-ever neck whippers as "Daytime Dilemma (Dangers of Love)," they also essay a supercharged rockabilly one-off called "No Go" and a greasy, proto-garage grinder called "Planet Earth 1988," not to mention the muscularly seductive "Chasing the Night," in which the lads finally come to terms with synthesizers (with Dave Stewart of Eurythmics and Talking Heads' Jerry Harrison manning the keyboards). There's even a first-ever instrumental called "Durango 95" — an unadorned riff that clocks in at less than one minute. And in the yowling "Wart Hog" and the superbly snotty "Endless Vacation," two instructive missives to the hardcore hordes, Dee Dee Ramone demonstrates just who it was who turned on the Sex Pistols in the first place. The sound throughout is thunderous: in the wake of two previous liaisons with unsuitable producers, the bulk of this LP was recorded virtually live in the studio by Ed Stasium and original Ramones drummer Tommy Erdelyi. And along with the boys' ever-present pop smarts — note particularly the hit-worthy "Howling at the Moon (Sha-La-La)," a track produced by Stewart — you also get a strong undertow of angry social consciousness (especially pointed on Dee Dee's "Planet Earth 1988"). In short, Too Tough to Die is a return to fighting trim by the kings of stripped-down rock & roll. Don't miss it.