Friday, March 23, 2007

138. New Monkees - New Monkees (1987)

From the Department of Everything Old is New Again:

In 1987 Coca-Cola and Warner Brothers put together a can't-miss proposal: Considering the renewed popularity of The Monkees with America's young people - thanks to MTV's airings of the old TV show and a 3/4 reunion tour - let's update the concept for our modern times and laugh all the way to the bank!

Thus were born the New Monkees: Marty, Dino, Jared and Larry. Much like the original Monkees, they were given their own television show and a record to promote within said show. And much like New Coke, everyone still preferred the original.

How disrespectful of a concept was this? Imagine a band coming along and saying, "We're going to call ourselves the New Rolling Stones." Granted, The Monkees were never known for integrity. They were soullessly manufactured to capitalize on Beatlemania and their managers had no respect for musical creativity. The band succeeded artistically despite this, thanks to a stellar group of songwriters feeding them material. The original four deserved more than to have their name copped.

Stunning lack of conceptual originality aside, the New Monkees could have filled a boy band void somewhere between New Edition and New Kids On The Block, had they only produced some good pop songs. Instead, the album is just shy of terrible. The lyrics are strangely obsessed with sex and the music is strangely intent on being Bon Jovi lite.

Before discussing the songs, it's worth mentioning that all four members did actually play on the album. In true Monkees fashion, two vocalists share the duties: Guitarist Larry Saltis and bassist Marty Ross. Unlike the Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz, their voices are barely discernable from one another. Drummer Dino contributes Springsteenish vocals on the closer, Turn It Up. Apparently Jared was only there as a pretty face. He's only listed for "background vocals."

The album kicks off with What I Want, a sordid tale of a fast woman, a la Little Red Corvette. That's all fine and good, but I wonder why a project obviously aimed at a child and teen audience didn't contain lyrics more friendly for that audience. The New Monkees were horny, judging by the terrible The Way She Moves, the icky Burnin' Desire and I Don't Know, an ode to ambivalence that features the line: "I don't know how I feel about her / Is it love or only the night?".

A couple of one-hit-wonders contributed to the songwriting. St.Elmo's Fire (Man In Motion) guy John Parr co-wrote Do It Again, another inappropriately suggestive tune that rips off David Bowie's China Girl hook. Tom Cochrane, who later told us about life being a highway, serves up a plate of cheese called Boy Inside The Man.

Perhaps the worst song on the album is Affection, a shouty affair about, not kidding here, lonely people who resort to suicide and rape.

There ARE actually some highlights. Whatever It Takes, despite featuring a keyboard line that sounds like the Perfect Strangers theme, is catchy and features no inappropriate come-ons. Ten-to-one this was the single. Carlene features a great chorus, and Corner Of My Eye has Cars keyboards and an appealing "I'm a wanderin' man" mentality. The latter is the only song to feature a writing credit from one of the four New Monkees (Larry again).

Album sales suffered, rightfully so, the show only produced an unlucky 13 episodes, and the New Monkees returned to the primordal ooze. Just as well. Perhaps the funniest thing about the whole project is that it's not even as good as The Monkees' own 1987 album, Pool It , which easily ranks among the worst things they've done.

Grade: C-
Fave Song: Whatever It Takes

Sunday, March 04, 2007

21. No More Kings - "Sweep The Leg"

I'll start by stating unequivocally that The Karate Kid is my favorite movie ever. No one can convince me there's a better film. I'm also a big fan of the novels of Gregory Maguire, wherein the author typically reimagines an existing story from another point of view, usually that of the villain.

So this surprise piece of nostalgia pop by No More Kings is right up my alley. It concerns the inner thoughts of Johnny Lawrence, the blond black belt ex-boyfriend who made Daniel LaRusso's life so miserable.

We all know that Daniel defeated Johnny at the All Valley Under 18 Karate Tournament, and in the process earned Johnny's respect. "You're all right, man" Johnny says as he hands Daniel the trophy. It's one of the many intriguing moments in the film. Johnny, who through the whole film shows no hint of being anything but a conscious-free bully, suddenly has depth.

To be fair, it's not a complete turnaround. Earlier, when Johnny's coach, Martin Kreese, tells him to sweep Daniel's injured leg you see a look in Johnny's eyes, a look that shows he knows this has gone too far. Later (actually at the beginning of The Karate Kid Part II), Johnny stands up to the coach with disastrous results, but we are able to see that Johnny does indeed have some modicum of decency in his character.

The song continues this sort of unexpected redemption. Johnny obviously regrets his fall from grace and feels manipulated: "I was a superhero / King of 1985 / I showed no mercy / I was always Cobra Kai / But I caught a crane kick to the face / Uh-huh/ I guess he sealed my fate when he said / Sweep the leg Johnny."

It's true, to be reduced from an ace degenerate who was going to make everything work to a has-been with a broken second place trophy must have been hard. We all have lessons to learn.

Too often, funny songs are doomed by repeat listens, so big props go to songwriter Pete Mitchell for being able to evoke a smile while still treating his subject matter with reverence. As for the accompanying music, it sounds like Maroon 5's Adam Levine fronting Living Colour. Or Stevie Wonder doing vocals on the Chili Peppers version on Higher Ground.

To check out the video, starring and directed by William Zabka (the actor who played Johnny) and featuring a cameo from Ralph Macchio, click this link: