"I Love the new Monkees record!," is something I thought I'd never hear my adult self saying, but I've heard myself saying it. The three surviving members of the 60s made-for-TV rock band (Davy Jones died of a heart attack in 2012) have recently released Good Times!, their 12th studio album and their first since 1996's Justus.
In their heyday, most of the band's material was written by popular and highly-successful songwriters of the time (Harry Nilsson, Neil Diamond, Carol King, Boyce and Hart). With Good Times!, they returned to that formula, turning to more modern-day songwriters such as Andy Partridge (of XTC), Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie), Rivers Cuomo (Weezer), Paul Weller (The Jam, Style Council), and others. The album is produced by Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne) who feels ever-present on the record. The result is a joyous, janglely, and surprisingly solid collection of summer pop that sounds like The Monkees we all remember, while still feeling relevant and not a complete exercise in nostalgia.
Here are a few of the tracks that I've had on heavy rotation.
Written by Andy Partridge, this track, which might sound at home on a Dukes of Stratosphear-era XTC record, also sounds like a genuine Monkees track, with Dolenz on lead vocals.
Me & Magdalena, written by Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard, was the surprise of the record for me. It's a CS&N-like country-folk ballad with gorgeous harmonies, instrumentation, and a haunting lyric. I can't stop listening to this.
Written by Noel Gallager (Oasis) and Paul Weller, and beautifully sung by Dolenz and Nesmith, this track is like doing 300mcg of psychedelic 60s sunshine.
Next to "You Bring the Summer," "She Makes Me Laugh" is the record's other heavily-sugared confection, written by Weezer's Rivers Cuomo. And dig that Archie style comic book video!
It would have been weird not to have a Davy Jones track on Good Times! This is a Neil Diamond composition from 1967, recorded with Jones, and previously released on 1982's Monkee Business and the 2007 Deluxe Edition of Headquarters. Here, backing vocals are added by Dolenz and Tork.
As the title and cover art (depicting iconic Monkees costumes and accoutrements) make clear, this is supposed to be a fun and playful record. It is definitely that (the CD even comes with Monkees stickers, a classic move), but this is also a seriously good piece of sonic pop, for me, up there with the best work The Monkees ever produced. It must feel really good to them to have created something this accomplished, this fully-realized, so late in the band's career.
Now, where's the Monkeemobile when we need it?