Saturday, April 25, 2009

218. The Monkees: The Birds. the Bees, and the Monkees (1968)

Though The Birds, the Bees, & the Monkees, the band's 5th album, was released only a year after the landmark Headquarters, it was light years away in circumstance. The band unity had dissapated; they were a band only in name. Everyone was doing his own thing. In fact, only one song recorded specifically for the album features contributions from more than one Monkee.

Not only that but, the distribution of songs was far from equal. Basically, the album is the Mike and Davy show. While Mickey shows up very sporadically, Peter is completely M.I.A. The problem with Davy and Mike dominating is that their styles clashed terribly. Davy was intent to pretend that the '60s never happened, singing heavily orchestrated teen idol tunes that would have been more suited the the preceding decade. Mike, on the other hand, was a little bit too into the overindulgent psychedelic spirit of the '60s.

Like every Monkees album, this one has some gems, but as a whole listening experience The Birds, the Bees, & the Monkees is solidly in the lower rung of the band's output.

The Classics:
The Birds, the Bees, & the Monkees was the band's last truly commercially successful album, mostly thanks the presence of two songs. Interestingly, both were sung by Davy, and both were very different from his other songs on the album. Daydream Believer paves the way for the soft rock revolution that was just around the corner. Sure, it sounds like the Carpenters, but it's undeniable. My favorite part is the spoken intro, where the studio engineers get annoyed with Davy for not listening to the number of the take. 7A! Boyce and Hart's Valleri is just a stellar performance: the vaguely eastern sounding guitar solo, the crazy drums, the stacked harmony vocals, everything. The pleasures of listening to the Monkees would never be this pure again.

The Surprises:
Only a couple here. Tapioca Tundra is a trippy Nesmith song that's oddly endearing. I'll Be Back Up On My Feet, a Mickey showcase, is the Monkees gone Motown.

Comme Ci Comme Ca:
Dream World is mildly catchy Bachrachian pop from Davy. The Poster's lyricial concept is similar to the Beatles' Being For the Benefit of Mr.Kite, albeit less sinister and strange. The music is somewhat interesting, like something composed for a children's television show. Auntie's Municipal Court is a nonsensical Nesmith composition which Mickey sings laconically, and Magnolia Simms is Nesmith's '20s tribute. It sounds like a scratchy old record and, oddly, is his most straightforward composition on the album. It also demonstrates an unexpectedly effective Nesmith falsetto.

Writing Wrongs is the perfect example of Nesmith's afforementioned overindulgence. As much as he wanted to be, he was no John Lennon. This melding of two stream-of-consciousness, dissonant song bits is certainly not the equal of Strawberry Fields Forever. It's barely even better than Revolution 9. Davy is not innocent himself, since he sang and co-wrote We Were Made For Each Other, an awful bit of saccharine pap.

Another Boyce and Hart song, P.O.Box 9847 is just a personal ad put to music. It has a nice chorus, but the verses are torture: "Lonely, understanding man, affectionate and true / Looking for girl to share his dreams and make them true / Humble, loving, sensitive, considerate and shy / Only sincere ladies need reply." That's just one verse; think how much it would cost to put that in the paper!

And finally, there's Zor and Zam, the theme song to an abandoned fantasy project about two war-minded kings. The lyrics are an intriguing commentary on the disconnect between the ideas of political leaders and the will of the people, but musically the song is clamorous and undistinguished.

The Bonus Tracks:
A few gems show up in the bonus tracks. First is Alvin, Peter Tork's a capella story of a pet alligator. It's cute, but maybe it got cut because Peter was sick of being responsible for a novelty track on every album. His other contribution, Lady's Baby, should have been on the proper album, but would have stuck out like an opposable thumb. It's much more organic and bluesy than anything else the Monkees ever recorded. The participation of Stephen Stills and Buddy Miles might have been partly responsible for that.

There's also more tweeness from Davy in the form of I'm Gonna Try. His other song, The Girl I Left Behind Me would have been a much better album choice than We Were Made For Each Other. It has a rousing chorus and a sound that, like Daydream Belivever presages the soft rock of the '70s. Finally, there's an unnecessary alternate recording of P.O. Box 9847.

Grade: C-
Fave Song: Valleri

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