When The Monkees say, “here’s something from our new album,” it’s not a cue to hit the rest room.
“Good Times!,” the band’s first album of new material in 20 years, coincides with the band’s 50th anniversary tour.
Nostalgia will only take an act so far, let alone one ridiculed for its plastic roots. This isn’t a quick cash-in. Nor is it a desperate stab at 21st century relevance.
It’s a fresh way to appreciate the band’s legacy while letting today’s rockers pay homage to the pre-Fab Four.
Sound impossible? Just take a listen.
‘Good Times,’ Indeed
The album reunites the surviving band members – Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith – while adding the late Davy Jones via a track cut during the 1960s. It’s still not a “band” in the traditional sense. They recorded the music separately, and the title track features vocals from another departed crooner, Harry Nilsson.
And, maddeningly enough, the trio lets other musicians play the instruments on some tracks. That reminds us of how The Wrecking Crew did the honors for most of the Monkees’ first two albums, and how that rankled music critics in the first place.
But is “Good Times!” any good?
Consider “She Makes Me Laugh,” penned by Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo. It’s bright, infectious and instantly appealing. Pure bubblegum pop. Pure Monkees. Dolenz’s voice stretches out the word “smile” in the chorus, transforming a pat turn of phrase into something poetic.
Most of the album follows that song’s retro footprint. “Good Times!” isn’t trying to sound hip or modern. It’s ’60s rock given a spit shine by songwriters who grew up on “Last Train to Clarksville.”
Andy Patridge of XTC fame pens “You Bring the Summer,” another candy-colored treat under Dolenz’s vocals. Fountains of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger, who produced the disk, contributes the bouncy “Our Own World,” which could have come from the band’s creative breakthrough, 1967’s “Headquarters.”
Death Cab for Cutie’s Benjamin Gibbard gently hits the brake for “Me & Magdalena.” Nesmith cradles the song’s thoroughly west coast lyrics, matched by its soulful guitar work.
“But know everything lost will be recovered
When we drift into the arms of the undiscovered”
The album’s power drains with “Little Girl,” a Tork original which meanders pleasantly along without the band’s signature hooks.
More Nuggets from the Past
Rhino records has been digging through the band’s archives for some time. The resulting albums, like three “Missing Links” CDs and amped-up re-releases of the band’s catalog, unearthed plenty of solid nuggets. Why was “All of Your Toys” not a smash?
Turns out a few more songs were still waiting to be discovered.
Take “Whatever’s Right,” from the band’s go-to songwriting team of Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart. It won’t bump “Clarksville” from any oldies jukebox, but the song captures the buoyant charm of the band at its peak.
The one Jones track, “Love to Love,” dates back to the era as well, but it’s been updated with Dolenz and Tork tackling the backing vocals. It’s perfectly fine, but it’s easily the least of the four Monkees tracks written by Neil Diamond. What song could lap “I’m a Believer,” “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You” or “Lookout (Here Comes Tomorrow)?”
FAST FACT: Stephen Stills auditioned to be one of the four Monkees but was turned away for having bad teeth.
“Wasn’t Born to Follow” comes from the team who delivered “Sometime in the Morning,” arguably the band’s most beautiful ballad. Tork tackles the Carole King/Gerry Goffin track, giving it a delicacy that will surprise everyone but longtime fans.
The riskiest boasts the worst title.
“Birth of an Accidental Hipster” finds Noel Gallagher (Oasis) and Paul Weller (The Jam) pushing past the group’s shimmery boilerplate. Nesmith and Dolenz team for a sound that echoes the quixotic “Star Collector” in its approach. Breaking the band’s formula serves the group, and the album, quite well.
“Good Times!” is a Frankenstein’s monster of a record, culled from discarded pieces hoping to inject life into what could be one last reunion tour.
It shouldn’t work. And on some notes you can hear how the years have taken their toll. And then the choruses come, and come again. Suddenly, it’s like the ’60s never ended .