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coverpic flag US - California - Full Moon 245 - 08/18/16

The Monkees
Good Times!
Rhino Records

I noticed that there was a new release by The Monkees some two or three moonths ago, but didn't think too much about it. Well, that changed after I received an anonymous package in my mailbox in July that contained a little CD-box in the Original Album Series with the first five albums by The Monkees including bonus tracks. I don't recall ordering the box and I haven't been charged for it either. Quite a mystery, but a nice one! I knew most of the songs from other sources, but it urged me to seek out the new album, as well, the 12th studio album by the band. And then I realised it coincided with the 50 years anniversary of the band and the accompanying TV series. The Monkees debut single "Last Train To Clarksville" was released on 16 August 1966, the first episode of the TV series was aired on 12 September while their self-titled debut album hit the shops one moonth later.

The new album includes 13 songs with a good mixture of old and new. Here are relics from the 1960s that have been brushed up:

  • "Whatever's Right" by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart who wrote the above debut single and produced and recorded the backing tracks for most of the songs of the first season of the TV series and the debut album. A catchy little power pop gem!
  • The title track written by the underrated occasional pop wizard and Beatle buddy Harry Nilsson was based on a demo from the late 1960s with vocals by the late composer himself. Another power-pop gem, now in duet with Monkees drummer and main lead vocalist Micky Dolenz.
  • "Gotta Give It Time" is another great half-powered pop offering with lots of guitars in the verses that fits nicely with the above two songs. It was also penned way back, by Jeff Barry and Joey Levine. Jeff produced some of the early Monkees songs and wrote and produced some of the songs for the band's (well, there were only two left of the original quartet by then) ninth album Changes in 1970.
  • "Wasn't Born To Follow" written by maybe the most successful hit-maker couple in pop history, Gerry Goffin and Carole King. This isn't quite up to par with their "Pleasant Valley Sunday" hit for The Monkees in 1967, a bit monotonous, but there are some nice 1960s reverberations here.
  • "Love To Love" stems from a demo for the band's third album Headquarters in 1967, penned by Neil Diamond who wrote two of the biggest Monkees hits, "I'm a Believer" and "A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You". It has been brushed up, but includes the original lead vocals by tambourine man and occasional lead vocalist Davey Jones who died in 2012. His only appearance here. A nice little pop gem with a Byrds-alike chiming guitar.

Here are offerings from a generation or two younger cunning tunesmiths and lyricists, as well:

  • "You Bring the Summer" by Andy Partridge of XTC sounds much closer to XTC than The Monkees. Even the voice of Micky Dolenz sounds like Andy's. A great merry summer song it is, with seminal backwards raga rock'ish psychedelic guitar at the end and all. Worth the admission alone for an old XTC fanatic like me.
  • "She Makes Me Laugh" by Weezer's Rivers Cuomo fits better as a traditional Monkees song than the previous. Mellower and with a more up-tempo irresistible catchy chorus.
  • "Our Own World" written by the album's producer Adam Schlesinger of Fountains Of Wayne fame has a bit harder edges again with profiled rhythm guitar, a guitar solo that sounds a bit younger than 50 years and great vocal harmonies.
  • "Me & Magdalena" by Ben Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie is the melancholic piano ballad of the album. With Monkee guitarist Michael Nesmith as lead vocalist. Reminds a bit of Bruce Springsteen in his quietest moments.
  • "Birth Of An Accidental Hipster" is also fronted by Michael's vocals, along with lots of piano and guitars. The most varied song of the album, penned by a new songwriter team: Noel Gallagher and Paul Weller. Not bad. Quite good, really, and it doesn't sound typical neither of Oasis, The Jam, Style Council nor The Monkees. Closer to Brian Wilson in fine form, actually.

Last but not least are three offerings from the three surviving members of the band:

  • The title of "Little Girl" by the band's bassist and keyboard player Peter Tork indicates it's an about 50 years old teenage song. However, it is the most mature song of the collection, sung by the most mature voice (Peter's) and reminds us that the guys are in their 70s and not 20s anymore. Quite good actually.
  • "I Know What I Know" by Michael is a sad and melancholic love piano ballad. Very moving, actually, not least due to the Mellotron (I think) solo.
  • "I Was There (And I'm Told I Had a Good Time)" written by Mickey Dolenz in collaboration with producer Schlesinger is a steady guitar-rocker that sounds like a mixture of the start of The Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper" the title track combined with John Lennon solo going back to his rock'n'roll roots. The title probably refers to the quote (by Mick Jagger, wasn't it?) that 'If you can remember anything from the 1960s, you weren't really there.'

Good Times! is the first album of new Monkees song since the 30 years anniversary album Justus in 1996. It was a couple of executives at Rhino who suggested a new anniversary album 20 years on. These are the only two new releases by the band after Head in 1968 to feature all the four original Monkee members. To conclude: Good Times! is a lot better than could be expected! And once again The Monkee members prove they can deliver excellent pop music despite the idea behind the album coming from business people.

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