The Monkees turned 50 last year. The surviving members (Mickey Dolenz, Mike Nesmith, Peter Tork) decided it was time to record a new album, so Fountains of Wayne member Adam Schlesinger was brought in to produce Good Times!, the first new Monkees album since 1996’s Justus.
Schlesinger, who also wrote a couple tracks, wisely recruited the talents of today’s alternative artists Rivers Cuomo (Weezer), Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie), Noel Gallagher (Oasis), Paul Weller (The Jam, The Style Council), and Andy Partridge (XTC) to write songs for this the twelfth studio album by the Prefab Four. These artists are obviously all fans and their songs feel fresher than some of the other songs pulled from the past, written by the folks who gave The Monkees their early hits. Those songwriters include Carol King, Boyce & Hart, and Neil Diamond. Each of the Monkees also contributed a song to this surprisingly good album.
In the tradition of The Beatles‘ Free as a Bird, there are voices from beyond the grave gracing the album. The title track features Harry Nilsson (who also wrote the song) sharing a duet with Dolenz. And the previously unreleased track Love To Love written by Neil Diamond features the late and much missed Davy Jones on lead vocal with Dolenz and Tork providing updated backing vocals.
Let’s touch on some of the highlights, shall we?
I find the poppier songs work best on this album. Dolenz vocals just feels better fitted to those numbers than on the more rocking songs such as Gotta Give It Time, on which he seems to be pushing a little too hard. But the bright and breezy chorus of Cuomo’s She Makes Me Laugh is classic Mickey Dolenz. Bright and breezy is also a good way to describe the album’s best track: You Bring the Summer written by Andy Partridge. This song ranks right up there with Pleasant Valley Sunday, Last Train to Clarksville, and Daydream Believer. I think it’s an instant classic.
Me & Magdalena (written by Gibbard) is one of three tracks with Nesmith taking the lead vocal (actually Dolenz shares the lead for most of the song) and it is hauntingly beautiful. Its simple piano-driven melody just pulls at the heart strings. It is followed by Whatever’s Right (written by Boyce & Hart) which is the best of the songs written by The Monkees’ original songwriters. I can picture the chase montage sequences from their manic TV series when I listen to this track. “Oh, no! Davy’s fallen for the wrong girl again! Here comes her big, burly, bad-tempered, biker boyfriend! Let’s get outta here!”
If you get the digital download version of the album, you’ll get two bonus tracks which I think are worth it. One is an alternative take of Me & Magdalena. The vocal track is the same, but the song is guitar dominated rather than by piano as on the album version. It’s interesting how the feel of the song changes so much with the different instrumentation. The other bonus track written by Zach Rouge (Rogue Wave) is called Terrifying and it’s really good. I wonder why it’s only included as a bonus track.
The overall effect of this album is a light and pleasant summer-listening experience. The Monkees have given the summer of 2016 a blast of fresh-feeling nostalgia.
It’s aptly titled: Good Times!
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