It could be argued that the new album by the surviving members of The Monkees — Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork, and Michael Nesmith — is bulletproof. Success was baked in just for the project having existed, and there is a thin layer of truth to this. The goodwill that has carried this band from the ’60s to the present is one unlike any other in pop/rock. That same goodwill finds this new album, Good Times! released by Rhino Records, carried on the shoulders of high-profile collaborators like XTC’s Andy Partridge, Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo, and Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard. So, putting aside sentimentality for a brief moment, is the actual album any good?
The Popdose Staff weighs in on what is — for more than three generations of pop music fans — likely to be the album of the summer.
Robert Ross: There’s 17 tracks total (bonus songs, etc.) – my favorite is the Paul Weller/Noel Gallagher penned “Birth Of An Accidental Hipster”, sung by Mike with Micky putting in harmonies and the middle 8 vocals. This is a “natural” Monkees track!
Keith Creighton: Who has the bonus edition? Target? Amazon? Best Buy? Big Lots?
RR: The bonus tracks are on:
David Medsker: Yeah, that “…Hipster” song is gold. Listened to it on Spotify.
Beau Dure: Spotify has a “deluxe” release with 15 tracks.
RR: They used “Love To Love” to represent Davy but even though it’s been around for a while, this is a good mix. The title track’s got a great feel. It’s Nilsson’s original backing track, apparently.
Thierry Côté: I’ve already tweeted a bit about the album, but I’m really surprised—and I credit Adam Schlesinger for this—that they were able to put together such a consistently strong set of songs and produce them in a way that makes the material sound quite timeless (unlike their previous two comebacks). It certainly doesn’t hurt that Micky sounds almost the same at 71 that he did at 21!
I think I like “Birth of An Accidental Hipster” better than anything off Noel Gallagher’s two solo records.
RR: I agree with Thierry – it’s consistent. Pool It! was clumsy and too corny-’80’s. Justus was uncomfortable and uneven. The production/sound of this album helps; it gives it an overwhelming radio-friendliness.
I think – from friends, etc. – “…Hipster” is the overall favorite. Of course, for me it’s the fave because of Weller and Nesmith.
Michael Parr: Having grown up in a household that placed The Monkees above even The Beatles, I felt compelled to give the record a spin—that, and the fact that friend of Popdose, John Hughes, has been so vocal about how good this record was turning out*. Much like that last Beach Boys record, That’s Why God Made The Radio, this record doesn’t feel like a victory lap, rather an earnest attempt at bringing a fine set of tunes to life.
(*Editor’s note: John Hughes is co-Executive Producer for Good Times!, and is credited for initiating the idea for the new album to mark the 50th anniversary of the band.)
MP: “Hipster…” is the easy favorite here, as well. Might be the best thing Noel’s been involved in since the ‘90s.
Dw. Dunphy: The thing that pervades this album is a sense of joy. I think Mickey and Peter are genuinely enjoying themselves. But I will add that I bought the CD mainly for “Me & Magdalena” — when I heard the track on the video promo it got lodged in my brain. I knew I’d need to buy the thing.
For someone coming into this with suspicions with Pool It! and (to a lesser extent on the scale of embarrassment) Justus still in mind, this is not those. This album is, in most senses, an album that would have landed in that first wave of records and lived quite happily.
Everything about this story is improbable. A fake band of actors gels and becomes a real band, fighting all the way for it. Decades go by and suddenly because of MTV they are as popular as they’d ever been. Reunion albums emerge, but don’t do much good for the legacy, usually something that stops momentum dead in its tracks. A reboot emerges and quickly retreats. A band member passes. Years after, the surviving members make an album that nearly wipes a 20 year slate of hit-and-miss clean.
I don’t think there’s a comeback story nearly as circuitous and twisty. In baseball they call these “Teams of Destiny.”
TC: Forget about 20 years—as you’ve said, this could’ve been released in 1968 instead of The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees. It’s certainly a stronger album song for song.
RR: While I tend to ignore Changes, Pool It! and Justus, this album is a fine companion to (as a very hardcore Monkees fan my whole life) even Instant Replay (which contains two of my favorite songs) and Present. If I had to find a gripe with it, I wish it was produced and made to sound entirely in the vein of “Good Times”, “…Hipster”, etc. If that’s as bad as I can get…
What I find so warming is the fact that it seems the world has finally caught up to giving the surviving Monkees their long-overdue respect. Certainly, the accolades for this album have been overwhelmingly positive, praise-filled and kind. And, if it’s to be believed (Nez said it this morning, I think), it’s the #1 seller on Amazon, which is not a small thing.
Will Harris: It’s funny, but when Ringo Starr released his Time Takes Time album in 1992, doing a cover of The Posies’ “Golden Blunders” and having Doug Fieger and Berton Averre from The Knack singing on one song and Andy Sturmer and Roger Manning singing on several others, I remember wondering, “Why didn’t The Monkees do something like this?” Granted, it seemed like they toyed with it a tiny bit on Pool It! in terms of tackling songs by outside-the-box artists. Unfortunately, even their covers of Wreckless Eric’s “Whole Wide World” and Ian Hunter’s “Every Step of the Way” sound incredibly dated now, whereas there’s just nothing on Good Times! that doesn’t sound like it was trying to emulate the group’s original sound, which is as it should be and always should’ve been.
RR: And it was an obvious misstep having Micky sing “…Whole Wide World” instead of Davy. Although “Broken Doll” was tailor-made for them…
BD: I’m a little torn on the fact that The Monkees made an album. In a way, it makes perfect sense to do the full throwback to a 1960s-style album — short, with some good singles and a couple of oddball tunes. But I still found it about 10 minutes too long. By the time I hit “I Know What I Know,” I thought it was sounding a little dreary. (Fortunately, closer “I Was There (And I’m Told I Had A Good Time)”, despite irritating Jason with those parentheses, is a little more upbeat.)
I would have been happy with a couple of singles. The Andy Partridge track is so good that I actually want to track down the Japanese bonus track so I can hear another Partridge song. Who would have guessed Partridge writing for Micky Dolenz would sound so right?
And Dolenz is the revelation here. I went back and listened to a Justus track with Davy Jones singing, and it struck me, sadly, that his voice is so dated. Dolenz sounds right at home alongside today’s peppier pop-rock (alt-rock?) singers.
I’ve always found The Monkees’ story fascinating. When MTV brought them back, I devoured a couple of books on the group, reveling in all the strange twists and turns as they were hired as actors, then wrested control of their music and screen presence away from their overlords. Hard to imagine anything like that happening in a different era.
Jason Hare: I agree with Beau that the album is a little too long, but I’d place the blame more on Peter: “Little Girl” is instantly forgettable, and though King/Goffin’s “Wasn’t Born to Follow” is pretty, it doesn’t really bring anything to the table. (BTW – did something happen to Peter? I haven’t heard him sing since Justus, but he sounds different vocally than he has in the past. His speaking voice sounds different as well.)
RR: Peter was ill around 2009 with oral cancer: adenoid cystic carcinoma. It’s a rare form of head and neck cancer found in the salivary glands; in Peter’s case on the lower portion of the tongue. Which is why he sounds the way he does – most notably when he talks.
JH: That explains it. Thanks.
Good Times! really comes down to proper writing and production. Bravo to John and the Rhino crew for getting the right people involved — especially Schlesinger and Partridge. (I had some friends over this weekend and when one of them heard “You Bring the Summer” — without knowing its lineage — they asked me if it was an XTC track.) There are so many great hooks on this album; the three singles they’ve released so far have been spot-on, but “Our Own World” and “Whatever’s Right” hold their own with ’em.
As has been said here already, Micky is fantastic. I had the same thought that Thierry did — vocally, he hasn’t aged a bit. I read an interview with Schlesinger where he mentioned there were some instances where they wound up placing songs in a higher key to accommodate his range. That’s just astounding. Nez also sounds great, and I’m sure it was deliberate to push his backing vocals to the forefront (to my ears, above Peter’s) on a lot of these tracks. And sorry to say it, but I’m not really missing Davy on this record.
The album isn’t perfect, but it’s definitely miles better than it has any right to be. What other bands these days are releasing some of their best work so late in their career?
MP: I think that every album of recent vintage is too long, but that’s just me.
RR: The thing that’s so striking about this album is the fact that there’s a renewed energy; a sense of joy and passion – them actually re-finding the desire to do this – as The Monkees – not for the idea of a cash in or ego stroke. They wanted to do this and went with the elements that made them a success at the outset – great writers at their disposal – and a sense of unity.
“Good Times” itself is a groovy, swinging track. Hearing Micky up his game against Harry Nilsson’s 49 year old vocal is something of a wonder and it sounds tight. Like I said before, “…Hipster” is as psychedelic as they’ve been since “Daily Nightly”. “Love To Love” IS from that era, but it’s a stronger Davy track than what he was prone to deliver (I always thought his was the weakest of the three lead voices). Peter’s take on “Wasn’t Born To Follow” is warm; “Me and Magdalena” (first take) is stunning – nothing else to say there. “Whatever’s Right” absolutely fits on any of the first three albums; “Gotta Give It Time” definitely has a first-album feel. “You Bring The Summer” I can hear Partridge doing the vocals but either way, The Monkees doing XTC is inspired. And “She Makes Me Laugh” is about as sweet and poppy as one could hope for without being saccharine-nauseating.
RR: Keep something in mind – go back to the first XTC bio written – from ’92 or ’93 – and Partridge rhapsodizes about being a Monkees fan. It’s natural for him. I think to a lesser degree Weller was also – I had this photo of him around the Sound Affects era playing one of the special red Gretsch Monkees guitars.
WH: Something I don’t think anyone’s mentioned is the Boyce & Hart song, “Whatever’s Right.” I played samples of the album for my mother last night, who’s heading for her mid-70s, and although she liked everything she heard, that’s the song that caused to her to perk up and say, “Now that one REALLY sounds like a Monkees song!” As well it should: in addition to the fact that the writers were responsible for a number of the group’s biggest hits, it’s also a song that was apparently intended for The Monkees’ debut album!
RR: I did. And you are 100% on the one.
DWD: “You Bring The Summer” has a lot of DNA shared with “Dear Madame Barnum.”
RR: It does. Unquestionably. And if you close your eyes, you can hear Partridge’s voice.
I also think Mike’s “I Know What I Know” is a very touching piece – it works well as a bookend/companion to “Me & Magdalena”.
DM: “I Know What I Know,” in a just universe, will be a wedding song staple for generations to come.