Friday, June 12, 2009

224. The Monkees: Instant Replay (1969)

And then there were three. After Head, Peter Tork left the Monkees, and the other three soldiered on. Instant Replay, an album comprised of older songs from the vault alongside newly recorded material, was the debut of the Monkees as a trio.

Not that it made much difference. Peter, unfortunately, was rarely a huge part of the Monkees sound. That's why he left in the first place. So what you might expect to be one of the band's lesser efforts is actually one of their better ones.

The Classics:

There are no songs on this album that a casual music listener would recognize.

The Pleasant Surprises:
Michael Nesmith had, thankfully, seemed to grow out of his psychedelic phase, and was back to writing pleasant folk country pop tunes. Don't Wait For Me and While I Cry are both twangy laments, and both are newer songs. I Won't Be the Same Without Her is the standout, but is also leftover from a 1966 session. Mike sings, but Gerry Goffin and Carole King wrote it. It's a mannered Byrdsian track, with Baroque harmonies, and a steady rhythm.

After laying so many rotten eggs on The Birds, the Bees, and the Monkees, Davy acquits himself somewhat, on three songs recorded specifically for the album. Me Without You is spirited and fun. The Girl I Left Behind Me You is like a lost Carpenters song. You and I is the most surprising track, a blues rock workout that dares to get slightly heavy on its second half. Not only is it surprising that Davy sang this sort of song, but he also co-wrote it!

The real story on Instant Replay is the decline of Mickey Dolenz, who had been such a beacon of quality work on the early Monkees albums. I'll get to his other contributions momentarily, but it's telling that his one good song on the album is an old one. Tear Drop City could have been a hit if it had been released a year or two earlier. The sturdy writing team of Boyce and Hart gave this track that old Monkees magic, even providing the high background harmonies. It's like Last Train To Clarksville's groovier cousin.

Comme Ci Comme Ca:
Through the Looking Glass is the first and most minor of Mickey's Instant Replay sins. Another leftover track, this one lacks the strength of Tear Drop City. Some nice tack piano and some off-kilter harmonies keep things interesting intially, but the song quickly becomes annoying. Davy's performance of Goffin and King's A Man Without a Dream is not awful, but neither is it great. The horn-driven arrangement saves it from devolving into a complete snoozer.

WTF?:
Don't Listen to Linda, on the other hand, is the one Davy stinker on the album. It's a boring cautionary tale about an unctuous woman.

Mickey's worst two offences were also new self-written songs. He had previously shown himself to be a very capable composer, notably on Headquarters' Randy Scouse Git. But Just a Game and Shorty Blackwell show none of that talent. The former is cloying, with a vocal performance that demonstrates the same cavalier attitude that the lyrics condemn. The former features an irritating high-voiced chorus and a complete lack of structure. It's long (nearly 6 minutes) and drugged out. Looking back, Mickey described it as "self-indulgent," which might be too nice a description.

The Bonus Tracks:
Unlike many of the Rhino reissues, Instant Replay features some interesting and unique bonus tracks. In fact, three of them should have made the actual album. Davy tackles Paul Williams' Someday Man and does a very nice job. Mike's St. Matthew is a strangely charming tune. And Mickey's Rosemarie is at least 10 times better than anything that he actually placed on the album. A finished version of the song showed up on the Missing Links compliation.

Mike's Carlisle Wheeling and Davy's Smile are less-than essential, as are the two alternate versions of Me Without You and Through the Looking Glass, which even the liner notes admit only contain "subtle aural differences" from their album-version counterparts.

Despite Mickey's dippy contributions, Instant Replay is an enjoyably forgettable record from a band who was watching their relevance fade right before their eyes.

Grade: B-
Fave Song: I Won't Be the Same Without Her

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