Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Monkees 4: Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd.

The Monkees had managed to stay a viable commercial product even after the Summer of Love, which they embraced with nutty anarchy on TV. And having established their autonomy as a self-contained that could write, perform and record their own songs on Headquarters, what did they do? They started working as solo artists within the group context, before the Beatles even, augmenting their own sessions with handpicked professional musicians. From this anarchic setup came Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd., helped by songs recently heard on the show as well as a couple of hit singles.
Mike dominates the proceedings on the album, beginning with the not-so-ambiguous “Salesman”. “The Door Into Summer” is a nice folky lope, with its fairy tale imagery and great high harmonies from Micky. He’d go further towards country with “What Am I Doing Hangin’ ‘Round”, which he didn’t write, nor are the Byrds playing on it. “Love Is Only Sleeping” simmers with a bit of psychedelia, while “Don’t Call On Me” predicts the MOR sound of 1968.
Despite Micky’s competent drumming on Headquarters, here he’s content to let somebody else handle it, and sing whatever’s given him. “Words” is a re-recording of a Boyce/Hart song from the first season, the lead vocals shared with Peter, who only otherwise appears on a spoken piece shortly before the phenomenal “Pleasant Valley Sunday”. (Mike’s playing that infectious riff, by the way.) Micky’s biggest contribution to the album is the debut of the Moog synthesizer, which chirps all over “Daily Nightly” up against his own histrionic vocal. Another, more musical embellishment is added to “Star Collector”.
Despite such strides, the band would always be seen as a teenybopper group. Truth be told, it wasn’t their own musicianship (or lack thereof) that denied them respect from their peers; rather, it was Davy. The songs he chose as his showpieces tended to be so corny they’d make Paul McCartney blush. “She Hangs Out” is a rerecording (again) of another leftover from the Kirshner days, but “Hard To Believe” came from the little guy’s own pen. “Cuddly Toy”, a Harry Nilsson composition, has something of a vaudeville approach, but at least all four Monkees play on it.
The occasional wince nonetheless, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. still qualifies as a “good” Monkees album, but the schizophrenia that would soon dominate their recording sessions has already begun to emerge. Each of the Rhino reissues is bolstered mostly by alternate mixes of the songs, with the only real extra being Micky’s breathless James Brown-styled showpiece “Goin’ Down”, a contemporary B-side.

The Monkees Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. (1967)—
1995 reissue CD: same as 1967, plus 6 extra tracks
2007 Deluxe Edition: same as 1967, plus 25 extra tracks

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