Rhino RI 573134
This was my go-to record this past Christmas. Even though I knew this would not really be a Monkees album when it came out, I was still excited to get it last year. It is basically a Micky Dolenz record with cameos from Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork, plus some archival recordings by Davy Jones. To be even more accurate it is closer to being a Fountains of Wayne album with lead vocals by Dolenz which I think is probably good thing. I love the Monkees but I have my doubts about Dolenz on his own and besides I am also a Fountains of Wayne fan. That band's Adam Schlesinger played bass and keyboards for most of the tracks and produced most of it as well. He brought in bandmate Brian Young to play drums on the record and Jody Porter for a track as well. Schlesinger had also had a big role in the prior Monkees' album "Good Times!" He died last year of Covid-19 which along with Peter Tork's passing in 2019 gives this record a special poignancy for me. The album opens with "Unwrap You At Christmas" by XTC's Andy Partridge which features a bouncy poppy tune to accompany mildly salacious lyrics. "What Would Santa Do" was written by Rivers Cuomo of Weezer. It is a punchy tune with an ebullient chorus and amusing lyrics in which the singer gets cuckolded by Santa Claus so you know this record is not directed at the kiddies. Davy Jones sings "Mele Kalikimaka" by Robert Alex Anderson. The vocal is lifted from a Christmas cassette Jones made in 1991 with Chip Douglas featuring new instrumental backing from Schlesinger and crew. It is the sort of music hall type song Jones excelled at and his performance is very charming. "House of Broken Gingerbread" was written by Schlesinger and Michael Chabon. It is power pop with psych overtones featuring an inspired vocal from Dolenz that reminds me of the Monkees' "Porpoise Song." The lyrics describe more Christmas debauchery. Michael Nesmith croons the venerable classic "The Christmas Song" by Robert Wells and Mel Tormé which is given a lush interpretation with country embellishments courtesy of Pete Finney's steel guitar. Even in his prime Nesmith did not have the chops to handle this song, but I find his clumsy yet sincere vocal rather endearing. His son Christian produced and arranged the song and plays guitar and keyboards on it as well. "Christmas Party" was written by power pop heavies Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey. It is the most raucous and hard rocking song on the album as is appropriate for a song about a wild Christmas party that name checks James Brown, Darlene Love and, in a nod to Monkees fans, Auntie Grizelda. The song opens with some Monkees dialogue that I assume was lifted from their TV series. The side concludes with a lovely cover of Big Star's "Jesus Christ" by Alex Chilton. Prior to this album I would never have believed that Micky Dolenz would someday be singing a song from "Third" but here it is and he does it very convincingly. Side two opens with a cover of Wizzard's "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday" by Roy Wood. It is an exuberant song with a sunshine pop sound worthy of the Turtles. Jones takes on another Christmas classic with Jay Livingston and Ray Evan's "Silver Bells." Once again the vocal is lifted from Jones's Christmas cassette with tasteful new instrumental backing. The song suits Jones very well. Dolenz returns with a delightful cover of Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime." It sticks pretty close to the McCartney version and is one of my favorite tracks on the album. Nesmith dips into the past with his version of Claude and Ruth Thornhill's "Snowfall" which dates back to 1941. The song was produced by Nesmith's son Jonathan who also plays all the instruments and sings back up. Nesmith's vocal is pretty weak but his son covers up for him with a very dense and rich arrangement. Peter Tork finally makes an appearance humbly warbling "Angels We Have Heard On High" in a bare bones country arrangement featuring Tork on banjo. Tork's voice sounds frail presumably due to his illness, but I nonetheless find his performance moving and charming, easily the most authentic moment on the album. Dolenz gets to break out his soul man schtick for the rhythm and blues Christmas classic "Merry Christmas, Baby" by Lou Baxter and Johnny Moore. The song is given a heavy lumbering treatment that gives Dolenz plenty of room to emote. The record concludes with a 1967 acapella performance of the 16th Century Spanish song "Riu Chiu" which was taken from "The Monkees" tv show and is the only track to feature the group performing together on the record. It is a little jarring to hear the lads sounding so young, but it does give the record a memorable and touching finish. I love this album but I have to admit it is not very cohesive. The Dolenz tracks and the tracks from his bandmates sound like they come from entirely different albums. On the other hand you could say that about some of the original Monkees albums as well. I dig the eclecticism and there are no tracks on here that I do not thoroughly enjoy. It will be spinning on my turntable for many Christmases to come. Recommended to fans of Sloan and the Posies.