The Monkees, ‘Good Times!': Album Review
The fact that there is a new Monkees album in 2016 is miraculous enough, but that said album, Good Times!, is nothing short of a masterpiece is astounding.
Since their inception as a television show, the "Prefab Four," as they were cynically dubbed, carried zero respect from all but the most attentive of their contemporaries and critics. And while much of that baggage and criticism has washed away, leaving only the reminder of their wonderful catalog, where does that leave things in 2016?
Following the MTV-driven revival of the mid-'80s, several attempts were made to record new material. But 1987's Pool It was flat, and the 1996 self-contained effort Justus lacked any real spark. In 2012 Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and the elusive Mike Nesmith regrouped following the death of Davy Jones, and hit the road, focusing not on the wacky hijinx, but on the music. Nesmith's involvement spoke volumes to skeptics and went a long way to this new album being a reality.
Good Times! is as contemporary as it is a wander into the past. Over the album's 13 tracks (15 on the download), there is a seamless mixture of new and old, with material supplied by those who wrote some their biggest hits as well as songs by those who grew up on the band. The title track, for example, was based on a 1968 demo by Harry Nilsson, who wrote "Cuddly Toy" and "Daddy's Song" for them. The original backing track was used, then augmented by a brand new Dolenz vocal.
Old pal Bobby Hart dug up "Whatever's Right," a song he and the late Tommy Boyce wrote years back. Though a product of a 2016 recording session, you'd swear it was a lost track from decades ago. "Gotta Give It Time," written by Jeff Barry and Joey Levine, is another that uses vintage tapes mixed with current sessions to produce a garage-rockin' raver.
The late Davy Jones is represented by "Love to Love." Written by Neil Diamond, this song first saw the light of day on a late '70s Australian collection and was later included on a box set. The version here, however, is more fleshed out. Peter Tork's "Little Girl" is a gem, written long ago with Jones in mind, but unrecorded until now. Tork also delivers a great take on the Goffin/King classic, "Wasn't Born to Follow." Nesmith contributes the plaintive "I Know What I Know," and the album closes with a stomping Dolenz tune, "I Was There (And I'm Told I Had a Good Time)," that was co-written with producer Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne fame.
The songs written by the new generation hold their own, as well. The first single, the naggingly catchy "She Makes Me Laugh," was written by Rivers Cuomo of Weezer, while the second single, the effervescent "You Bring the Summer," which is embedded above, was penned by former XTC leader Andy Partridge. "Birth of an Accidental Hipster," by Paul Weller and Noel Gallagher, is a blast of pop art pop with Nesmith and Dolenz swapping lead vocals. "Me & Magdalena," written by Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard, features a world weary and slightly fragile lead vocal from Nesmith, which works to the song's benefit as Dolenz provides beautiful harmonies.
Schlesinger and executive producer John Hughes certainly had a big hand in guiding the process, but it's the spirit in which Tork, Nesmith and Dolenz took to the idea of making a record this way that makes it all work. Dolenz, at age 71, has retained the power and control of his amazing voice, and all three also contribute via guitars, piano, banjo and drums.
Good Times! is certainly the best Monkees LP since their '60s heyday, but it also stands firmly on its own as one hell of an album circa 2016. To be honest, you'd be hard-pressed to find another act from the same era who has made an album this good in recent memory, and that includes any of the heavyweights still alive and kicking out there.
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