Perhaps no one expected that a new album by The Monkees in 2016 would get rave reviews, but Good Times! is deserving of a great gush. For a start it’s fun (with an exclamation mark to remind us – though it almost evokes that famous question-mark from those hippie-times, “does anybody remember laughter?”)
It’s been twenty years since the last new Monkees album and now Mickey Dolenz and Peter Tork are the only full-time Monkees, keeping the name going as they tour to celebrate the 50th Anniversary – though they’re rejoined by Mike Nesmith for this album. And we get to hear from Davy Jones on a resurrected 1960s track – Love to Love. It’s a Neil Diamond song but it has a Byrds-ian guitar chime and some Zombies-like drums and organ. It’s a reminder, one of several across Good Times!, that The Monkees knew psychedelia and that nearly-twee version of 60s folk-rock, they knew so much more than the box they were put in (that ‘box’ of course being the television – where they were created and where, in some sense, to this day, they’re still confined. By some, anyway).
Bringing back the voice of Davy Jones isn’t the only resurrection trick here – the album’s opening cut, its title track, is a Harry Nilsson-penned piece that hams up its Ray Charles-plays-Last Train To Clarksville riff and melody and feel and has Dolenz sharing vocals with the original Nilsson recording. It’s infectious and given this was a band that (almost) always rode in on a theme-tune (Hey, Hey, They Are (still) The Monkees!) this can serve as the album’s summation of theme and theme-tune.
We get to hear some of that “authenticity” this band strove towards, Tork hands in the lovely Little Girl, an almost absent-minded waltz with a Ringo-esque vocal. It’s a gem – Tork’s voice and writing also evoking the current work of 10cc’s Graham Gouldman; that idea that a simple, lovely song, delivered in an honest and heartfelt way can still work…well that’s a nice idea, right? So much of this Monkees album works not just because it’s been written by one hell of a pop-songwriting camel, but because The Committee doesn’t belie the earnest endeavour of placing the song right at the heart of the performance and the only studio trickery here is in recasting a few tunes from the 1960s. The new songs – contributed by Paul Weller and Noel Gallagher (the wonderful Beatles-y Birth of An Accidental Hipster) Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo (the delightful She Makes Me Laugh, a de-Weezered power-pop moment of magic) and Andy Partridge (You Bring Me The Summer – more an ode to The Beach Boys fun than XTC’s seriousness) all bounce and lift and have life in them and the breeze flowing through them.
Ben Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie provides one of the lovely ballad-moments, his Me & Magdalena rides on a folksy, rustic acoustic hue. And the record’s co-producer, Fountains of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger, reminds with his Our Own World that The Monkees inspired so much of the 90s/00s power-pop and jangly ruminations.
So often when fans gather to write (essentially ‘in character’) it feels like fake revelry – at best. But here the result is something of a stroll down memory lane, that’s also urgent and relevant and even if it doesn’t sell the worth and world of The Monkees to a brand new generation that’s surely not the point and never quite the aim here. The aim, as Dolenz so happily, proudly sells, is to have these good times. These Good Times! And through little reminders of The Monkees’ soul and grit and grasp of 1960s-created R’n’B and psychedelic-influenced pop (Gotta Give It Time) this album has everything a new Monkees album in 2016 could ever hope to harness. And somehow it has so much more than anyone other than the three remaining members and their adoring/adorning fellow pop-fan tunesmiths could ever have hoped for. One of the surprise gems of the year then, though we are clearly in such safe hands here.