Tuesday, June 30, 2009

226. The Monkees: The Monkees Present (1969)

The Monkees Present was was the band's final '60s attempt to wring any commercial viability out of itself. Unlike Instant Replay, all but two of the songs were brand new, and the album was accompanied by a strong advertising push (including a cross promotion with Kool-Aid!) and a tour with a seven piece R & B backing group.

As interesting as that all sounds, The Monkees Present failed to make much of an impression. Monkeemania had obviously had its day, and Michael Nesmith chose to leave the band soon after.

The Classics:

Mike's Listen to the Band, though not a huge hit at the time, has become a sort of theme for the group. Though Nesmith claims the lyrics weren't a plea to be judged on musical merit, people nonetheless chose to view them that way. Rhino even chose the song's title as the name of their 1991 Monkees box set.

The Pleasant Surprises:
Good Clean Fun is, in my opinion, the most crackerjack country rock song the Monkees ever did. Though the title has nothing to do with the song, the lyrics, about a man returning home to his patient sweetheart, are actually quite straightforward (something you can never take for granted with Nesmith). Oklahoma Backroom Dancer, another Mike tune, boasts a honky tonk piano and a groovy rhythm.

Mommy and Daddy
finds Mickey attempting to redeem himself for his awful showing on Instant Replay, and succeeding. Like Randy Scouse Git, the lyrics are socially-conscious. They take on the treatment of American Indians, drug use, war, and the misguided tendency of white middle class parents to shelter their kids from harsh truths.

Comme Ci Comme Ca:
Mickey also offers Little Girl, a fast-paced, jazzy tune with some nice harmonies, and the harmonica-centric Bye Bye Baby Bye Bye. Neither is bad, but both feel slight and underformed.
Pillow Time, a minimal jazzy fairytale lullaby cowritten by Mickey's mom, is intriguing in concept, but slightly boring in execution.

After an atypically strong showing on Instant Replay, Davy returns to blah territory with the soppy If I Knew. French Song is not much better; the loungey instrumentation is its most appealing aspect. Looking For the Good Times, a half-baked leftover Boyce and Hart tune from 1966 is highlighted only by Mickey and Davy sharing vocals, something that didn't happen nearly enough.

Mike's only semi-clunker on the record is Never Tell a Woman Yes, a piano-driven tale of a man who passes on a woman's invitation to travel with her, regrets it when he finds out she's rich, and then ultimately gets rewarded when she comes to find him after having been robbed by another man. Thus we get the title of the song, which serves as an odd, misguided moral to the story.

WTF?:
Ladies Aid Soceity, another Boyce and Hart composition from '66, is easily the worst song on the album. As far as I can tell it's an attempt to capture the same spirit of pastoral Britain that The Kinks did so well. It just doesn't work, especially the annoying falsetto chorus.

The Bonus Tracks:
The selection here is fairly (and thankfully limited). There are two original tracks, two alternate versions, and an advertisement. Calico Girlfriend Samba is a fun, spirited track that Mike reused on his solo debut, Magnetic South. The Good Earth is a hippy dippy, anonymous poem that Davy recites rather dramatically and earnestly. It's actually not too bad until the final line: "Why can't we be good, on the good Earth?"

Listen to the Band is presented in an earlier version, but marking the differences is for audiophiles only. A harsher, more controversial version of Mommy and Daddy is also included, with the added lines "ask your mommy and daddy who really killed JFK" (remember it was only 6 years later) and "if it was my blood, mommy, would you care a little more?". Of course, I like this non-bowdlerized version even better than the final.

Finally, there's a radio ad for the album. It features a "typical teen" talking "straight" about how The Monkees Present speaks for just them, and how those square adults just won't get it. Though it's an actor delivering the lines, the air of desperation is palpable.

The Monkees Present is the last time for a long time that the band represented even a shred of its former self. It's a middle-0f-the-road swan song, especially considering that the worst was yet to come.

Grade: B-
Fave Song: Good Clean Fun

1 comment:

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