The Monkees Find Greatness with ‘Good Times!’

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Monkees Good Times CoverThe Monkees
Good Times!
In A Word: Goodtime!

A new Monkees album some 50 years after the TV series debuted? It’s something of a minor miracle, really. Especially as what Micky, Peter and Mike – with a host of talented friends and admirers – give us after all the intervening years is, indeed, a Monkees album. Albeit a 2016 Monkees album (another small and lovely miracle; check!), yet one that also effectively channels the mid-to-late 1960s when the band came together as what some felt at first blush was simply a disposable pre-fabricated foursome in the mold of The Beatles. If anything dismisses that notion with a knowing “Ha!” it’s this winning disc.

Lo and behold, the four musical talents recruited to play The Monkees rebelled against their TV production masters and became The Monkees. And their performances on the hit songs recorded to serve the TV show connected with listeners in a way that obviously still echoes today.

While this whole 13-song affair is exceptionally good and redolent with much of what made The Monkees musically popular back in the day and long after, a few splendid moments bear singling out. “You Bring The Summer,” written by Andy Partridge, sounds like something Brian Wilson would have written back in the day for The Monkees (with hints of XTC shimmer). And if this were, say, 1968, it would be headed for top of the pops on AM radio all summer long.

And if I’ve heard a song more lovely, enchanting and heartwarming than “Me & Magdalena” in recent months, it sure doesn’t come to mind. Nesmith and Dolenz sing it together in a delectable duet that ices the luscious cake of a simply elegant song penned by Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie.

Then there’s this set’s tour de force: “The Birth of the Accidental Hipster,” written by contemporary Brit-pop-rock masterminds Paul Weller and Noel Gallagher with Nesmith. It’s a mini-suite, and quite a nifty one – smart, sophisticated, catchy and wittily structured; someone give producer Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne, etc.) some kinda medal for his classic yet visionary guidance throughout this album. For all of us original Monkee fans from 1966 who soon outgrew them (as we started taking drugs), “Accidental Hipster” is the Holy Grail that finally assures us that they aren’t simply a guilty pleasure from our youth. Seriously: If it were a discovered vintage Beatles recording with John and Paul trading vocals as skillfully as Nez and Dolenz do, this track would be getting lauded as a masterpiece.

Related: Check out the band’s 50th Anniversary tour dates and read about other ways The Monkees are celebrating their Big Five-O

There’s a bunch more goodies here, like a pop-rock Whitman’s sampler: the rollicking Nilsson-penned title song opener with its late writer singing with Micky from old demo tracks; “She Makes Me Laugh” from Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo with its chiming guitars and sweetly-geeky romantic lyrics (“we’ll have a dinner date tonight and play some Scrabble with the guys. and wear our pink party hats”); Schlesinger’s propulsive “Our Own World” is just about the best Brit-pop out of Hollywood ever – it all opens the first rounds of this album with some championship musical punches. And Good Times! certainly makes a compelling showcase for the (even now) boyish charms of Micky Dolenz’s singing.

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Davy Jones, who died in 2012, returns via a sturdy if also by-the-numbers Neil Diamond song cut in the band’s past that comes closest to that here, “Love to Love.” Tork’s folkish “Little Girl” is nice if largely inconsequential.

Biggest disappointment is, sadly, their version of the Gerry Goffin/Carole King chestnut “Wasn’t Born to Follow,” which was the crown jewel of the 1969 Notorious Byrd Brothers album, a track that later shone on the Easy Rider soundtrack. The country-rock take here by Tork, nice as it is, just doesn’t draw the song out.

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But no quibble, really. Wrapping up with the Dolenz/Schlesinger poppy-blues-rock of “I Was There (And I’m Told I Had a Good Time)” – a reflection on Micky’s adventures in the ’60s and ’70s as the hip Monkee who partied with the cool crowd – Good Times! is largely just what it titularly announces itself to be: an enjoyable listen that shall always make the day better, and not some exercise in nostalgia but – whadda ya know! – surely one of 2016’s top rock music charmers. And it lets the world know how back then and now, hey, hey, they weren’t just monkeying around.

Rob Patterson

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