It's quite likely that no act in rock 'n' roll history has ever been so
nor greeted with such unwarranted critical hostility, as the Monkees.
Conceived as a made-for-TV rock group, the Monkees were reviled by the
as a soulless concoction of Tiger Beat
faces who hadn't paid their dues and didn't play their instruments.
The inherent absurdity of this specious litmus test of authenticity hasn't
it from being a pervasive and prevailing blunt instrument with which
have repeatedly and tiresomely attempted to bludgeon the Monkees and their
supporters into bloody submission.
While the group's fans recognize the sheer chuckleheaded folly of such
all but the most blindly devoted would at least concede some points to the
Yes, the Monkees were a manufactured phenomenon. Yes, the Monkees didn't
play their own instruments, at least not until their concert tours and the
LP. Yes, most of their tunes were provided for them by Don Kirshner's
Building hit machine, though the individual Monkees (particularly Michael
wrote several memorable songs of their own along the way. None of these
do anything substantive to invalidate the lasting appeal of the Monkees and
But, like the song says, that was then, this is now. In spite of a
Monkees reunion of Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones and Peter Tork in 1986, and
anniversary concert tour by that same trio in 1996, the Monkees have been
to establish themselves as anything more artistically viable than a
act. The group's 1987 comeback album, Pool It!
, was a critical and commercial disaster, and Nesmith's pointed
these ventures has fueled the popular (though flawed) opinion that Nez was
Monkee, and the others mere hacks who occasionally reunite in desperation.
For right or for wrong, anything done under the Monkees aegis by just
Dolenz, Jones and Tork,
without Nesmith, has been widely viewed as suspect and incomplete, and has
been dismissed as such.
Which brings us, finally, to Justus
, the brand-new, unexpected studio reunion of Dolenz, Jones, Tork and
their own instruments, writing their own songs, making a record that is
percent their own for the first time in their history. Nesmith's
this project automatically lends it an air of legitimacy, a legitimacy
never had. Nonetheless, one approaches it with some trepidation, and with
fear that the group is going to embarrass itself. One hopes for the best;
confounds expectations. Its sound is far heavier (almost self-consciously
any would've though likely, almost as if the Monkees were daring you to
the Pre-Fab Four one more time, you sunavabitch. The album was apparently
idea to begin with, and he joins Dolenz and Tork to form an effective power
trio that rocks
with forceful abandon. (Jones was unable to join the others until after
Still, if Nesmith is seen as the driving force, it's Dolenz who really
shines as lead
singer on six of the album's 12 tracks. Gone is the Mr. Vegas
Monkee Micky sleepwalking through his 17 zillionth performance of "I'm
no, Dolenz sings here from the broken heart and the wounded soul, possessed
of a passion
we've not heard from him in ages, and spitting out a vitriolic anger we've
heard from da Mickster. Forget about the oldies tours; here, Dolenz
reminds us of
why he's simply one of the best (and certainly the most consistently
underrated) rock 'n'
roll singers on record. And his drumming is superbly forceful and
The album opens with a savage run-through of "Circle Sky," the
punkish Nesmith tune
the group originally performed live in the 1968 film Head
. The only old Monkees song redone for Justus
, this version of "Circle Sky" seethes with even more attitude
than the original,
setting the appropriate pissed-off tone for the rest of the record.
Did we say "pissed off?" Well, the brings up the album's two
angriest songs, Dolenz's
"Never Enough" and Nesmith's "Admiral Mike."
"Never Enough," one of four songs Dolenz
wrote about his bitter divorce, keeps its anger in check while its blood
boils just under the surface, resulting in a catchy number that ain't
afraid to draw blood
- good choice for the first single. "Admiral Mike," on the other
hand, is a furious
growl propelled by snarling guitar and a manic Dolenz vocal that may
he's about the grab Davy's red maracas and beat some deserving "stupid
twit" to a messy death.
Hey, aren't these guys supposed to be too busy singing to put anybody down?
Dolenz also acquits himself well on the insistent "Regional
Girl," the '50s-style
"Unlucky Star," the ballad "It's My Life" and the
spunky "Dyin' Of a Broken Heart."
Jones, mercifully unburdened by any drippy '90s cousins to "I Wanna
Be Free," offers
able and amiable jaunts through "Oh What A Night," "You And
I" (a Dolenz-Jones composition
originally done in 1975 by Dolenz, Jones, Boyce and Hart, and not to be
with the same-titled Monkees tune on the 1969 Instant Replay
album), Tork's edgy "Run Away From Life" and the album-closing
"It's Not Too Late."
Nesmith and Tork each take one lead vocal (on "Circle Sky" and
the odd, dirge-like
"I Believe You," respectively), otherwise content just to be
active parts of a righteously rockin' band.
And rock they do. Really, no one had any right to expect much from a
in 1996. And an album as fully realized and accomplished as Justus
ought to have been inconceivable - impossible. The fact that the Monkees
it off is delightfully flabbergasting. It deserves airplay. It deserves
It deserves success. Here's hoping the Monkees finally get their due.
Five years ago in these pages, this writer lamented that a studio reunion
Jones, Tork and Nesmith as a self-contained band "was never a real
and concluded that any sort of Monkees reunion was very, very unlikely. In
same issue, Dolenz said, "I've gone solo and I won't be going
back." What a difference a half-decade
makes. More importantly, what a totally unforeseen turn of events it is
30 year old Pre-Fab Four to regroup and create a new album a rock-solid as
. Far-freakin'-out, man.