The Monkees

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The MonkeesThe Monkees (1966)

The apparent desire to hit as many target markets as possible is overwhelming. Witnessing country, folk, psych, baroque, and garage together under the umbrella of Pop, I find myself somehow stunned by the amount of greed on display; and yet, this cash-in is one of the more perverse, unexpected pleasures I’ve come across in a while, simply because it’s such a baffling hodgepodge. Factor in energetic performances far surpassing typical TV tie-ins’ (I’m partial to Jones’ off-kilter sweetness) and you’ve got a sure, if slight, winner.


More of The MonkeesMore of The Monkees (1967)

A victory lap the band didn’t know they were taking, this time with less country and more consistency. Even without the debut’s wooly genre-mashing, these chaps are a charming lot—enough so to push a blindingly earnest monologue to its limits and come back around in the end to simply sweet.


HeadquartersHeadquarters (1967)

If people are surprised that The Monkees’ newfound autonomy panned out, I can’t count myself among them. Call it a weakness for charm, but they rubbed me as being equally capable of singing and composing their stylistic surgeries.

What we get, then, is a piece of pop omnivorousness even sharper than the debut; aside from some Byrds takes, the gang veers through music hall, baroque, folk, and more with a smart, if obvious, eye for melody. The tunes can be easily typecast, though, and it’s sometimes difficult to tune out a given track’s inspirators. So though it’s not my favorite here (that would be Jones’ silken “Forget That Girl”), “Mr. Webster” stands as the album’s most unique moment. Just when you settle into the British mist, rhythms change, pedal steel steps up from the background, and the Grand Ole Opry suddenly seems much closer.

Or, if that doesn’t win you cool points with your snootier friends, tell them “Zilch” is a forerunner of “The Murder Mystery”. You wouldn’t be that far off.


Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd.Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. (1967)

I don’t get it. Is this another one of those Lovin’ Spoonful situations, where I find a group less engaging when they shed their poppiness? Take a mulligan on this and seek a second opinion; I have no idea why this leaves me so indifferent.



The Birds, The Bees & The MonkeesThe Birds, The Bees & The Monkees (1968)

It’s unexpected, given internal tensions and continued stylistic variety, but this is the most cohesive Monkees album yet. Fitting, then, that estrangement is the unifying concept: Vocals are usually tweaked or filtered, accentuating their distance from instrumentation that splinters inward like most good psych. On the country tunes (“Auntie’s Municipal Court”, “Tapioca Tundra”), this places the group on a vanguard with The Byrds—except Nesmith’s twangs actually give me hope for further appreciation of the genre.

Most important (besides “Daydream Believer”‘s trippy glee) is “P.O. Box 9847”, which takes the existing disconnect to an even deeper level. As Dolenz continually rewrites his personal ad, the odds that he doesn’t even know himself seem to grow with each hammering snare hit.


Head (1968)

Hazy cloud-spotting, dirty country ragers, fat acid grooves—Head is The Monkees’ most interesting release simply from an atmospheric standpoint. That it goes further by supplying vivid instrumentation is even better; that they build goofy sound collages into connective tissue might even top that.

But judging by its contemporary reception, the critics didn’t care. These were The Monkees, after all, a group held as rank product no matter how much autonomy they displayed, and taking a harder turn towards psych was surely more trend-hopping—never mind that it was the most overt display of Artistic Integrity yet. As “Dandruff” says, wasn’t that “exactly what [the naysayers] want[ed]”?

Most biting of all, the group knew this. Regardless of what they released, their kiddie image would sink it; so throughout Head‘s interludes burns a bitter self-awareness, most notably in “Ditty Diego”‘s funhouse mirrors. Sped up or slowed to a crawl, they’re still The Enemies of Authenticity.

So the pastiches take earlier goofs like “Zilch” to their tripped-out extreme, the songs offer still more proof of The Monkees’ lively proficiency, and Head as a whole demonstrates (yet again) a shrewdness the band’s harshest detractors were—and still are—too daft to recognize.


Instant ReplayInstant Replay (1969)

Here it is in case you missed it: A dash through The Monkees’ prime from the view of odds-and-ends across the years. And though I’ll refrain from donning my Monkees Defender cap too zealously, it really does show how capable these chaps and their studio collaborators are.

Tork’s gone, but between Jones’ swooning ballads, Nesmith’s country musings, and Dolenz’s sun-pop, Instant Replay covers most of the usual bases. Davy even branches out on “You and I”, the set’s highlight, full of urgent bass/acoustic groove and Neil Young’s guitar arcs.

It’s a shame there’s little of note past there.


The Monkees PresentThe Monkees Present (1969)

At this point, giving each member a dedicated sphere of operation is a redundant concept; and beyond Nesmith’s further embrace of country and Dolenz’s sudden delicacy, this doesn’t deviate much from the three’s established concerns. Aside from one garish oom-pah (“Mommy and Daddy”), nothing stands out as particularly deserving of praise or criticism—it’s just one more shot from a swiftly sinking ship.


ChangesChanges (1970)

Nesmith is gone and the remaining two succumb to Archies syndrome. Great job.



Pool It!Pool It! (1987)

Except for Davy’s, uh, fling with reggae, it sounds exactly like what you would expect from a Monkees reunion in that year and with that cover.



JustusJustus (1996)

The title suggests a certain level of fan service, doesn’t it? “Just us! No other producers, songwriters, or musicians. Just the Monkees that won you over three decades ago!” But these are no casual fans we’re talking about; the bulk of the album contains raucous guitar snarls that gnash their teeth under big-lunged power grabs. If they hadn’t kicked things off with a “Circle Sky” remake (itself originally one of the group’s hardest tracks), you’d almost think the group chose the style at random.

And yet, just as past gems like “You and I” (no relation to its namesake found here) surprise with their strength…well, okay, nothing here’s even remotely that stirring. But somehow, after all these years, after the first reunion album sunk (heh), Justus actually isn’t a disaster. I know, I know, the vocals strain, the guitars wash by, and the drums are vacuum-sealed to hell. Still, there’s some intangible spark keeping this within the bounds of comfortable mediocrity, though I couldn’t tell you what it is beyond a “they sound like they care” platitude.

I’d be a lot more willing to call this a success if there were more tunes like “I Believe You”, which casts a piano sleepwalking up a spiral staircase, Tork trailing behind, equally tranced. As is, it’s just the pick of an undistinguished litter that has the fortune to follow a travesty like Pool It!. Given the right context, anonymity doesn’t seem so bad.



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