Monday, 20 January 2014
The Monkees "Pool It!" (1986) (Album Review)
"Love in a vacuum, love in a space, love without even a little hint of a trace, love in confusion when love doesn't show on your face, love is a stranger, love is a box, love is a key that fits a million locks, love is a mystery when love is the devil you go, put your heart and soul where I can see them shine" "When I was a young boy, momma she said to me, 'there's only one girl in the world for you - and she probably lives in Tahiti!" "The other night I took the long way home, past the old school yard, it's funny how they keep it all inside, old dreams they do die hard" "I'm gettin' in to your heart, I'm gettin' in to your mind, you're going to learn from the start, you'll never ever leave me behind" "Don't be scared to love me darling, I won't chain you down you know, my love sets you free for flying, hold me kiss me off you go, I'll stay with you, I'm gonna stay with you, I'll stick with you, I'm gonna stick with you" "I used to see you in the avenue, you were the girl that let me follow you, you used to hang out in the alleyway, you sewed a button on my shirt one day, I asked around until I found your name, then underneath the arches in the pouring rain, I said you (yeah you) I want you every step of the way" "We used to have some good times, used to laugh together, it took a while to realize you were wanting something better" "We stood by the door and she put her hand in mine, could have fell through the floor when we said our last goodbye, I just stood and watched her walk away, the love of my life is leaving today" "The plants have grown, the dog came home, the bills are all getting paid, things have been much better since you went away, I've changed my looks, I read new books, I've got friends that mean what they say, things are so much better since you went away"
The Monkees "Pool It!" (1986)
Heart and Soul/(I'd Go The) Whole Wide World/Long Way Home/Secret Heart/Gettin' In/(I'll) Love You Forever//Every Step Of The Way/Don't Bring Me Down/Midnight/She's Movin' In With Rico/Since You Went Away/Counting On You
There are some albums that are born great and everybody loves them. Some albums have greatness thrust upon them (usually in retrospect by reviewers who didn't notice them at the time). And then there are those that might not be great but are so unlikely, so deeply unexpected, so-positively-great-that-they-exist-at-all that you almost don't care what they sound like. 'Pool It' is one of those albums. By The Monkees' very high standards - compared to any album from their incredible three-and-a-half year ten-album run it's rather anonymous and bland (yes, even compared to unfairly unloved albums like 'Changes' or 'The Monkees Present'). Compared to the best of what other AAA stars were up to, even in the less than respectable year that was 1986 and no matter how badly received at the time, it's not that great either (Paul McCartney's 'Press to Play' and The Kinks' 'Think Visual'). But flipping heck - the fact that the Monkees were back a full 16 years after their last album, even if they were a trio rather than a full quartet, having gone through hell and back in the intervening years was a cause for celebration. What with all the hoo-hah - the long awaited re-issues of their mainly out-of-print albums that year, the repeats of the TV shows on MTV and arguably the only well reviewed tour of their careers - the reunion album seemed as much a piece of merchandise as the tour booklet and the Monkee lunchbox; an afterthought meant to capitalise on the goodwill of the public after Micky, Mike, Davy and Peter had spent the wilderness years as one of the un-coolest bands on the planet (we true fans who kept the torch burning knew otherwise, as we'll be seeing...)
With all this attention and a bonhomie among the band members that was like the good old days, a record seemed inevitable. So inevitable, in fact, that original plans for it were huge: with their original label RCA Victor now defunct, The Monkees were keen to sign to one of the big labels but, despite their following and all the renewed interest in the band, they all declined. The band turned then to their natural home-place, Rhino Records, the minor label that had done so much to make the band respectable all over again by re-issuing their records with the love and care every label should bring to their catalogues but few ever do (the fans paid in kind too, with the last three Monkee albums re-issued on Rhino all charting, which is something they didn't do even in the 1960s). Plans were sky high for the true follow-up to 'Headquarters' in 1967, the last time the band had played together live without overdubs, with Peter and Micky both up for playing on the entire album and the two of them plus Davy considering writing the entire album themselves. But in a cruel mirror of the band's 'first' career, internal politics and the need to release product quickly and cheaply scuppered what could have been a tremendous album, resulting in just two group originals (neither of them quite up there with the band's best material) and a grand total of one Monkee musical performance (Peter, who plays lead guitar on his own song 'Gettin' In') Worse still, the three Monkees only appeared on the tracks they'd been designated to sing 'lead' on - there are no instances of them harmonising with each other or singing back-up vocals (a trend which, admittedly, only ever happened on albums three to five and outtakes anyway). As a result, this is an album made by session musicians you can't name, with some strangely low-mixed lead vocals by voices not always as easy on the ear as they were in their heyday. 'Pool IT' was a real opportunity to prove the doubters wrong, to show that there was more to the band that singing and covering other people's songs - and, alas, they blew it. 'Pool It', then, ended up being largely a collection of anonymous 1980s pop songs anyone with a voice could have recorded without too much strain and - just like the days of 1966 when the likes of Don Kirshner chose what went on a record and the band members weren't even aware what was being recorded - The Monkees all too often sound like extras on their own album. It's as if the intervening years - the struggle for power and independence, the glorious postmodern attacks of their artificial genesis on 'Head' and less glorious postmodern attacks on '33 and 1/3rd Revolutions Per Monkee' had never happened.
To be fair, though, no one involved in the project wanted it to be that way. In many ways releasing a Monkees album in 1986 was a braver move than it was in 1966 when the TV series meant their success was almost inevitable. The Monkees were still back then the punch-line for every artificially created band going and while the kids of the 1980s were arguably more taken in by artificiality than anyone (the Milli Vanilli scandal, where models were hired to mime to ugly-looking studio singers and accidentally revealed themselves for what they were when a backing tape got stuck live on air in a TV studio, would never have been allowed to happen in the 1960s simply because music goers would have seen through it quicker) The Monkees were the 'first' scapegoat for acts that weren't 'real' in an industry that prided itself for its honesty and integrity. This time around, too, the band did not have the backing of a TV station: yes MTV adored the younger vintage (who, let's face it, made the 1980s music video scene possible - alongside some early Beatles promos) but they hated anything 'old' and refused to show anything released by the 'new' Monkees, which rather scuppered Rhino's naive hopes of a mega-bucks tie-in special or at least repeat showings of a music video or two (the fact that MTV was pushing an even more artificial TV series about a group that could sing - nicknamed 'The New Monkees' - who were, by contrast to 'our' fab four, terrible and unidentifiable once the programme ended, probably had something to do with it too; MTV spent a great deal of money and really didn't want to remind people how good that programme should have been). Add in too the fact that Rhino were the new boys in the block and didn't have the clout of RCA Victor (however impressed people in the industry were by their successful re-issue campaign) and had never ever released an album of all-new recordings before in their short history (and thus their publicity campaigns were all geared towards old re-releases and markets rather than to teenagers, the biggest section of record buyers in 1986) and you begin to see why this album was such a hurried compromise.
There was of course a one-off precursor to this album, the single 'That Was Then, This Is Now' (technically credited to Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork, although quite what part the latter played in the song is anybody's guess), backed by a controversial cover of Paul Revere and the Raiders' anti-drugs song 'Kicks', apparently against the duo's will (they compared it to asking The Beatles to reunite and then making them cover a Rolling Stones song). The single was a big surprise that no one was expecting, making #20 in the US charts and propping up a new compilation that sold better than any Monkees release since 1967. The lucky label to take a punt on the duo was Arista, one of the 'big boys' The Monkees were looking to work with for a full LP, but surprisingly they passed (given that, with Davy onboard by 1986, they could just about get away with using The Monkees name, it's amazing that Arista passed after having a pretty sizeable hit). Had 'Pool It' been released by Arista rather than Rhino (with the commercial clout to go with it), then the album might have been a much bigger hit and the band's own plans of a yearly tour and album might not have been quite so unlikely.
Another reason this album got diluted was the non-appearance of Mike Nesmith. While Papa Nez hadn't been part of the reunion tour, he hadn't been altogether dismissive of it either, the Rhino re-releases of the records meaning that he was in full contact with the band for the first time in years and that he too was suffering pangs of nostalgia after a difficult 16 years. It was only fairly last minute that he ruled himself out of the album altogether, which was a shame: with a member missing 'Pool It' didn't quite have the impact amongst long-term fans the record might have done (although fans longing for a full four-way reunion soon got to learn to be careful what they wished for when this album's Nesmith-helmed rough-and-ready follow-up 'JustUs' hit the shops in 1997; Nez spent most of the 1980s ignoring music altogether and concentrating on a varied and eccentric range of films, some of which - like 'Repo Man' and 'Tapeheads' - are well deserving of re-appraisal, offering a blank canvas that even the 'Head'-era Monkees would have envied). It's a sad fact, too, that as a trio - whether in 1969 or 1986 - the 'feel' of the Monkees seems lopsided; Micky and Davy might have been the better singers, but their real roots were in theatre and film with music as a useful sideline; it was Mike and Peter who lived and breathed the music and went wherever it would take them - however much the paid had butted heads during the 1960s, without Mike to back him up Peter's attempts to inject real musical flair and integrity to this album all too often gets over-ridden, buried underneath another nice but toothless tune. Two pioneers are enough to off-set Micky's ability to sing anything and Davy's fiesty-but-occasionally-schmaltzy qualities, but one simply isn't enough (equally that's why so many fans find Nesmith's solo albums so heavy-going, with nothing there to go easy on the ear).
It didn't help matters, too, that the band tried to reach out to several big-name producers to help them make the record - and got re-buffed by all of them (insiders to the record industry still quaked in fear over stories of what happened when more than one Monkee got together to record a song). The surprising final choice was Indian producer Roger Bechirian, who was part of the rather-good new wave band 'Blanket Of Secrecy' before producing albums by the likes of Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe. He wasn't a bad choice for the record, adding a touch of class to the more up-tempo songs like 'Don't Bring Me Down' and 'Heart and Soul', but he lacks the versatility to cope with The Monkees and struggles to know what to do with Davy's breathy ballads especially. The band were on better ground being booked into Hollywood's Cherokee studios - named after both the Indian links to the area and a song Stephen Stills recorded there for his first solo album (Tork and Stills - who told his friend about the audition for The Monkees way back in 1965 - were still good friends in 1986). State-of-the-art (Stills himself used the world's first digital tape machine there in 1979), but filled with experienced engineers and employees, this was the smartest move the Monkees made during the making of this album.
The excellent - and honest- sleevenotes for the CD re-issue of 'Pool It' on Rhino by executive producer Harold Bronson recalls that the song selection was a bit hap-hazard; while several songs were chosen by the Monkees themselves, others were chosen for less honourable reasons (Davy's then-wife told him that with the rest song he'd be 'bigger than Bruce Springsteen; others Bechiarian brought to the table as an 'English' sounding song in Davy's range - which Micky, happy to sing anything, took over when Jones rejected them outright). As a result the songs on 'Pool IT!' are a real grab-bag of material that sounds like it belongs to the 'first' poppy Monkees era, those that sound like they belong to the 'second' more high-brow Monkees era, songs that sound distinctly contemporary and songs that sound like pale memories of what someone who doesn't really know the band imagined they were all about. As ever, The Monkees themselves have such a wide taste that the album takes in everything from reggae to MOR and often sound like an entirely different band from track-to-track - but that should have worked in the album's favour, as a reminder of the band's eclectic charm. However the 1986 model, with such a chance to re-write their history, should perhaps have been a bit more hands-on than this, with an overseer brave enough to stand up to them and tell them that certain songs simply weren't suitable for them.
Then again, given the rather random approach of assembling the songs, it's amazing how much of the track selection here works. While Peter's and Davy's own material are natural fits for the band (albeit it would be hard to imagine a different Monkee singing either track), Micky in particular proves to have a really sharp ear for a good song. 'Heart and Soul' is a classic example of how to modernise an old sound for fresh ears, sounding at once 'heavier' and more glossier commercial than the usual Monkees single. Had Peter and Davy been more involved in it, it could easily have become the hit single the band were searching for (alas it stalled at #72 in America and didn't chart in Britain). 'Don't Bring Me Down' by Tommy James (who used to sing with The Shondells) is the album highlight, a mature man's 'I'm A Believer', pleading with a wayward lover that the marriage still has somewhere to go. Micky's other vocals, for 'Secret Heart' and 'Midnight', are perfectly matched to cute and catchy songs too, whilst 'I'd Go The Whole Wide World' - strange as the song is - is worth it for that opening pull-the-rug-under-your-feet verse which is the closest thing here in spirit to the TV series. Davy, sadly, is in safe crooner mode for most of this album, throwing away his voice and talent on lesser material like 'Counting On You' and 'The Long Way Home', although his two chances to stretch himself (the reggae-ish comedy 'She's Moving In With Rico' and the rocky 'Every Step Of The Way') are more successful and 'right' than you'd probably expect. Keen to move away from the comedy songs everyone keeps giving him, Tork sounds hopelessly lost on 'Since You Went Away' (which might well be what happens to the narrator of 'You're Auntie Grizelda' when he's all grown-up) and only really has his own quirky 'Gettin' In' to truly shine.
The 1980s were a less integral age than the 1960s and in many ways owed the band big - and yet somehow they sound more out of place in this land of huge synthesisers and shoulder pads than most of our other AAA bands (who were, if not all able to embrace the brazenly commercial and artificial landscape the way Paul McCartney and Pink Floyd did then were at least able to send-up the trappings of the age like The Kinks or use it as a backdrop to 'timeless' themes heard on all the past albums a la The Moody Blues). The Monkees were more 'integral' than this, even during the years when they were being knocked for just such a lack of integrity, and ironically it's the title of the album's first and most famous track, 'Heart and Soul', that sums up what's missing the most. In retrospect, the sleevenotes claims that The Monkees 'made the album they wanted to make and were happy with 'Pool It!' seems a trifle hopeful: certainly the album gets short shrift in both Micky and Davy's autobiographies and none of the songs were performed on tour past this point. Too often the band sounds lost in a venue they've never been to before, like they did on previous album 'Changes' back in 1970 but more so (a bubblegum-soul album intended for release by Andy Kim before producer Jeff Barry realised The Monkees were free and might sell more records thanks to their name - though chances are they didn't). The Monkees don't belong in this world where synths play the riffs, not guitars, where choruses and verses blend in together without contrast and tension and where songs appear to be an opportunity for engineers to pack with excitement in post-production instead of generating it in the studio during recording. Of all the 1980s AAA albums we cover, only a handful of the CSN albums ('Live It Up', Stills' 'Right By You' and Nash's 'Innocent Eyes') match 'Pool It' for sheer misguided dated sound. To quote from the title, 'Pool It' isn't a running stream of lovely natural water - it's a bottling plant full of an artificially created substance that tastes like water but has probably never been near a natural water source in its life.
And yet, for all of that, I do genuinely like this album. Parts of it are both clever and moving ('Heart and Soul' and 'Don't Bring Me Down' especially being top notch) and even if they don't sound much like The Monkees I do like whatever it is they sound like on these songs (err, some of the time). Frankly there aren't enough moments that look back to the past, but when this album stops trying to be too clever and lets the sheer charisma and brilliance of the band take over (the opening verse to 'Whole Wide World', the truly off-the-wall construction of 'Gettin' In', the sheer joy of 'Every Step Of The Way') the result is magical. For a fanbase starved of product for so long, the fact that any care seems to have gone into this album is a bonus - and nothing can match the sheer joy of adding an album to your collection when you thought you'd reached the end of them all, even if it's not an album you play very much. To go back to our analogy then: no this isn't pure water, but there is a purpose to it's being here beyond simply making up the numbers or making money: it's the invention of a new flavour, with just the hint of a popular old one somewhere in the brew, that might never be heard of again but at least took the chance of trying to create something wonderful. 'Pool It' isn't perfect, that's for sure and it makes more mistakes than any record by a band on their eleventh album, with an experienced producer, should be making. But the fact that it exists at all is, as we said before, wonderful.
Talking of which, why is this album titled 'Pool It' I hear you cry. Well, unusually, this 11th band LP is the first to be named after what you might call a 'Monkee-ism'. While Ringo's nom-de-plume's 'A Hard Day's Night' and 'Tomorrow Never Knows' made it into the Beatles' catalogue, Micky's freudian slip of an expression made it's name as the title of the record after the band were having a row about just that, Davy and Peter having rather different ideas of where to go with it. Micky meant to say 'Cool It' but got his words wrong in typical fashion. Without any better idea and having become an in-joke the band kept using during the making of the record (with lots of opportunities for album cover pictures and tie-in advertising) the rather unusual title makes a lot of sense (well, more than the awful pun in 'JustUs' does anyway). If I was a cruel reviewer I could make some witticism about the band clinging to life-jackets for dear life on the front cover, smiling while they drown, but I wouldn't do that, honestly...(I'll settle for the fact that Micky becomes the first Monkee to be seen wearing a rock and roll style t-shirt on the back cover - and my horror when I found out it was for an expensive and exclusive polo club to make my point instead).
Shockingly, even released on a 'minor' label with no real advertising budget and no support from MTV, 'Pool It' still managed to outsell the last four Monkees albums ('Head' 'Instant Replay' 'The Monkees Present' and 'Changes'). That's more a sign of how unpopular The Monkees were right at the end of their career than how popular they were in 1986, but it's fair to say that bridges were crossed and opportunities were open after this record that never were before. The unthinkable had happened and The Monkees had made another record, at last, after 16 years of only living on in people's memories. The fact that the record wasn't one of their best, struggling to match even their weaker 60s albums or that the band weren't complete or that nobody really bothered to buy it somehow didn't matter. The most important thing about 'Pool It's' place in the Monkees' canon is that existed at all, making the band at least in theory a financially viable, ongoing artistic statement that was still loved by millions and had been forgiven by millions more once all the fuss about a bunch of hired actors not laying their own instruments had died down. For those of us who'd wondered for years, nay decades how The Monkees might have sounded in a contemporary setting had they never broken up, we no longer had to wonder because we knew- even if we didn't always like what the answer was.
'Heart and Soul', written by otherwise unknown writers Simon Byrne and Andrew Howell, is a storming way to start. Interestingly - and probably co-incidentally - the album's opening song and first single picks up where the band's singles career left off, reflecting the 'heavier' maturer, slightly soul sound of the under-rated 'Oh My My' (from 'Changes'). Both songs are expressions of love and surprise but clearly asking for more than just another teenage romance. One of only two tracks on this album to feature guitars as the dominant force, this automatically makes 'Heart and Soul' closer to the default Monkees sound than most of the record and the riff (played by session musician Mark Christian) is a good one, somewhere between the catchiness of 'Last Train To Clarksville' and the showing-off of 'Valleri, exactly the punch and power this song needs. Lyrically, too, this is easily the best song on the album, riffing on all the different ideas about the definition of 'love' before the narrator undercuts the song by claiming that none of the debate matters if you can't feel or experience it, love meant with heart and soul from both sides. Micky Dolenz was born for this sort of material, which is both poppy and light but hinting at a deeper, darker subject matter and he's as great as ever here, so much so that it's hard to believe that - the 'That Was Then' single apart - this was his first musical release for a decade or so (what a waste of that gorgeous, pure, eclectic purring voice!) Yes, there's nothing here you can't get from any other song, but it's all done very cleverly (sample lyric: 'Love in a vacuum, love in a space...love in confusion and love doesn't show on your face') but with just the right shade of warmth and emotion (mainly from Micky, as the session musicians themselves sound like just that - ironic, really, that hired hands should scupper a Monkees project when they finally, belatedly, get their first full credit on a Monkees LP) to work. The only downside is the fact that had The Monkees themselves played or at least sung this throughout it would have been even better (Peter and Davy ought to have done the backing vocals at least). Still, though, this is exactly the way The Monkees should have played it; a maturer song obviously sung by a man much older than Micky had been in the 60s but with enough references to the old sound to sound viable and dignified. It's a shame, actually, that producer Bechirian (who chose the song) didn't get the writers to come up with more for the album as they have a real Boyce-and-Hart catchy-but-deep feel that few other writers for The Monkees ever matched (it's a shame, too, that Bechirian was over-ruled on so many song choices by the band and respective families). The song was completed by a wonderful music video, right up there with the very best, featuring The Monkees defrosted from a fridge marked '1967' , discovering all the changes in the world around them and making their own low-budget music video by repeatedly putting loose change into a metre... (the director of this video clearly knew the series well and got their humour spot-on). If only this much heart and soul had been shown across the rest of this record...
'I'd Go The Whole Wide World' was the biggest surprise on the album's release: a comedy song not sung by Peter and the one song here that had already been a 'hit' for a completely different type of performer ('Wreckless Eric' Goulden, who released his 'punk' original of the song in 1977 on the infamous Stiff records label, although Elvis Costello's cover of it the same year is arguably better known). The song shouldn't really fit The Monkees, even though they've adapted it for a much more middle-of-the-road performance and slowed the verses of the song down. While probably less true to the original intention, this is arguably the best arrangement of the many cover versions of this semi-famous song around, though (despite the 1980s trappings), which makes for a great contrast between the laidback verses and the aggressive choruses that few singers could have pulled off apart from the versatile Dolenz showing his vocal skills once again. He even pulls off the great gag in the opening verse, where the narrator is listening to his mother giving the old fairy story about there being a 'girl in the world' for every boy, before adding the unexpected comical punchline '...And she probably lives in Tahiti!' Fully in keeping with the sometimes hapless, always unexpected humour of the Monkees TV series, this opening section is another highlight of the album, even if the song itself runs out of steam long before we reach the end (like many a punk song, I have to say). Legend has it that the song was chosen by executive producer Harold Bronson for Davy to sing (the high-ups had clearly been listening to the first two Monkee albums, where Davy's character was quite different - this song is a sort of punk sequel to 'This Just Doesn't Seem To Be My Day'). Jones, probably rightly, thought this song represented a step backwards (the late 1960s model, after songs like 'Someday Man' and 'A Man Without A Dream' wouldn't have been caught dead singing anything this silly) and thought the Monkees were daft covering material that people already knew when they'd never had to rely on that before. Micky, though, took a shine to the song (it's actually much more in keeping with his own humour: see 'Zor and Zam' and 'Shorty Blackwell') and - perhaps to keep the peace and please the powers-that-be who suggested it - sang it himself. The jury is still out on which Monkee was right: the song certainly seems like an odd choice and great as Micky is the sudden aggression on the chorus seems out of keeping (although aggression was an occasional part of the Monkees sound, on 'Head' especially thanks to 'Circle Sky' and 'Long Title'). Still, though, this cover isn't a disaster and the song's spooky tension at the start coupled with the sudden explosion in the chorus is at least more memorable than much of the album.
'Long Way Home', however, isn't memorable at all. A kind of 1980s twist on The Beatles songs 'In My Life' and 'Good Morning Good Morning', it features the narrator going off on a long walk round a neighbourhood he used to know well. It was written by longterm lyricist Bobby Hart with friend Dick Eastman so on the plus side at least meant one of the 'old guard' was a part of the album (writing partner Tommy Boyce had by then moved Nashville and lost regular touch with his old pal; battling depression and suffering from ill health he tragically committed suicide in 1994, just before The Monkees enjoyed their second creative and artistic re-birth). To be fair to Bobby, his lyrics are the strong point of the song: clearly realising that The Monkees couldn't be just like they were in their 20s, he again reaches into his own feelings of nostalgia and bittersweet reflection at how his life turned out to come up with a lyric that's clearly heartfelt rather than written to a formula (a sort of 'I'll Spend My Life With You' 20 years on). With each memory reminding him of a 'dream' he used to have, the narrator is returned to a place in time 'a million years ago' when he was with an old flame he never got over before talking to fate and admitting that while he's 'grabbing at shadows' its these dreams that allow him to carry on, believing that life will get better. Anyone whose ever pined for a lost love will identify with this song - and yet, somehow, on the record it comes off as twee and insincere. Davy is partly to blame - he may have chosen the song personally (perhaps out of loyalty to Bobby and also partly, it seems, because of his own recent nostalgic trip to Manchester, showing off his birth place to his growing American family), but 'Long Way Home' doesn't suit his voice (the pitch is so high even the 20-year-old Davy of 1966 would have had trouble with it) and he sounds positively bored, as if going through the motions (was this take 74 or something?) The backing band too sound bored and dispirited, especially the artificial programmed drumming which makes the recording sound as if someone is being whalloped over the head with a bass drum every four beats. But the melody too is perfectly forgettable, the sort of thing anyone wanting to put a poem to music would come up with, without any real sense of the emotion or drama in the lyrics. Tommy Boyce, too, might have been guilty of sacrificing some of his partner's lyrical ideas in favour of a more commercial sound, but at least you could tell the writers knew each other well - this is the sound of a young man trying to convey an older man's words and the atmosphere just isn't there. What a shame - a song that on paper looks like it should be the best on the album (what with Hart's links to The Monkees and his shared sense of passing years and nostalgia) turned into the dreariest and slowest, slushiest song on the album.
Perhaps Davy might have been better off singing Brian Fairweather and Martin Page's 'Secret Heart', which was actually his choice to include on the album even though Micky ended up singing it (perhaps it suited his voice better or - as the sleevenotes hint - Micky's wife took a shine to it and asked him to sing it for instead of Davy). A typical 1980s uptempo pop song, it's far from the best on the album but does at least have quite a catchy melody and a chorus that surges out of nowhere to stay in your head for days a la 'I'm A Believer'. A song about longing, it's actually not that far removed from 'I'm A Believer' lyrically either, with the love-lorn narrator silently pleading for the love of his life to show him some affection and imagining how different both their lives might be. Even though Micky was by now an adult of 41 when he made this album, rather than a 20-year-old youth, it still sounds slightly wrong hearing him sing about 'being lovers after dark' and the hints in the song that the narrator rather enjoys being submissive with his missus 'having some hold over me' - a very 1980s theme about secrets and danger that couldn't have been less in keeping with the upfront, occasionally uptight but heartfelt and open 1960s. Again, no song which features Micky on lead vocal is ever going to be worthless, but he's clearly not as at home on this track as on his previous two and has nothing really to get his teeth into here. Not bad by any means, but ultimately rather forgettable.
'Gettin' In' is Peter Tork's song for the album and his first release of any kind since 1968 (with the exception of his in-name-only appearance on the 'That Was Then' single anyway). Unlike Micky and Davy, who are clearly going back to their 1966-era personas, Peter's song is clearly at one with the more complex songs he was writing in the 'Birds and Bees' and 'Head' era. Sadly the song was never used first, but Peter wrote the song deliberately to open the setlist on the band's 1986 tour, writing the song to 'get in' to the minds of the audience and open up the conversation between band and fans. Grasping the new technology of 1986 surprisingly well considering Tork hadn't set foot in a studio for any length since 1968, 'Gettin In' is arguably the most relevant contemporary sound here, complete with a chirping synthesiser riff that acts as a counterpart rather than in harmony with the singer (very mid-80s) and a bouncy structure that bleeds seamlessly from verse to chorus to middle eight. The latter is especially striking, an elder Peter promising in true hippie style not to hold his beloved back as she tries to become independent, promising 'I'll stay with you' even while a 'ticking' piece of percussion seems to count down the hours to some unforeseen explosion and disaster. Like 'Can You Dig It?' the lyrics here are poetic and elusive but do make sense, basically promising to keep the narrator's loved one safe come what may and saying that it was her independence that made him fall in love with her in the first place anyway - so why should he destroy it? (the song recalls Graham Nash's famous line about Joni Mitchell, 'I just want to hold you, I don't want to hold you down'). Peter's voice has always been something of a 'marmite' sound for fans, perhaps because he's surrounded by so many good singers it shows up the fragility in his voice more - personally I've always loved it and wish Peter would sing more and he offers a great mix of vulnerability and confidence on this track; yes it doesn't compare with Micky's range across this album but in terms of pure sound his voice actually appears to have aged better than either of his colleague's have. Upbeat. catchy and with plenty to say, 'Gettin In' might not be a timeless classic to match 'For Pete's Sake' or 'Long Title' but it is easily the best 'original' composition on this album and captures the contemporary feel of this album better than even the contemporary writers do. An album highlight.
Davy's song is '(I'll) Love You Forever', a second drippy ballad that's not exactly original but is at least heartfelt and is much better suited to Davy's deeper, maturer voice. Had this song - which could have been written any year between 1900 and 2000 and still have sounded much the same - been released on a Monkees album from the 1960s or the 1990s I would have quite liked it. Clearly written with The Monkees reunion in mind ('I'll love you forever' was what he used to sign on Monkee autographs in the 1960s), it doubles as both a love song between two lovers and 'promise' from star to fan that he'll never neglect those who've supported him. In the light of Davy's sudden and tragic death in 2012, this song has never been more poignant and is a special song for much of the singer's wide fanbase. Unfortunately, this being in 1986, many of the song's good intentions get undone by the anodyne backing which like many a contemporary song considers that synthesiser hums and a Christmas-song style comedy keyboard run can substitute for real human pathos and emotion. It can't. Clearly somebody (possibly producer Bechirian) considered this song too 'empty' as it was and tried to fill it with something irrelevant, which is an awful shame. The closing swirl of keyboards, which seems to have come straight out of a 1930s musical, is particularly unforgivable and may be the most embarrassing moment on a Monkees record bar none (yep, even 'Laugh' and 'Your Auntie Grizelda' didn't get things quite this wrong). Only the spanish guitar part really shines through - and even this sounds slightly wrong for the song's heartfelt simplicity (though not as wrong as the synthesisers). A shame, because it's great to hear Davy writing again even if this song isn't one of his very best and for fans starved of Monkee product hearing their idol sing 'to them' more than ever before must have been an amazing moment at the time.
'Every Step Of The Way' is much better, the album's second single and a welcome return to Davy the rocker, a million miles away from the schmaltz of his previous two songs. Davy championed the song even though it too had been previously released, taking a keen interest in co-writer Mark Clarke (who was the bass player for the Monkees reunion tour). Co-writer Ian Hunter's original version of the song can be heard on his 1983 album 'All Of The Good Ones Are Taken' - his is a less comical and infinitely weirder version, with the guitars 'untuned' in a grunge style The Monkees only really adopt in 1997, while The Monkees' version is accessible and a little bit tongue-in-cheek. The second of three songs on the album to feature proper guitars, this early 80s song comes away actually sounding 1950s, completely with lines about 'do you wanna dance?' and a sense of mischief that Davy exploits well in the lyrics. Interesting the story in the song is basically the same as 'Propinquity', one of Mike Nesmith's greatest solo songs, the narrator suddenly realising that he's in love with the young girl whose been following him around and is clearly besotted by him. Full of sharp, snappy rhymes ('Things are getting better...I ain't gonna let ya!' ) and Davy winkingly promising that he'll 'teach the girl to strut one day' (recalling visions of his 'Monkee dance'), this isn't the deepest song in the world but it's an awful lot of fun. Sadly the band waste another opportunity for full-on Monkees backing vocals (neither Micky nor Peter appear on this track at all) but Davy is in his element and comes up with easily the most 'Monkee' sounding song on the album. A second music video, which spoofs every contemporary music promo going, is like the song itself not as clever as the first but still very funny. Another album highlight.
'Don't Bring Me Down' is the album's masterpiece, however, another Micky-sung pop song by Bill Teeley and Glenn Wyka that deserves to be much better known (Tommy James, formerly with The Shondells who had a big hit with the Monkees-ish 'Mony Mony' in 1969) recorded the best known version of the song in 1986, which lacks the clever riff of the Monkees version and the nifty harmonies but is still rather good). Deeper than much of the record whilst perfectly in keeping with both Monkee tradition and the album's theme of lost loves, Micky excels himself again here on a song of confusion after finding out the love of his life might have fallen for someone else. Looking back on their life together afresh, the narrator starts seeing 'signs' that he missed, the narrator too busy 'playing the clown' to see what his missus really wanted from him (you can see why Micky took to this song, what with his Monkees persona of doing just that, although it was quite a last minute decision that he sang it - Davy was interested in it too). Micky's closing howls of 'Don't do it...don't do it' are especially moving, while the song is an interesting overlap between rock (the eerie te3nsion of the verses) and pop (a singalong, almost anthemic chorus that's not all that far removed from The Beatles' 'Don't Let Me Down!') The chirping synthesiser riff, which rudely interrupts the reflection while Micky desperately holds on to the song's main riff (and isn't there in any earlier version) is an excellent piece of arranging work, hinting at the narrator going back to his public effervescent self despite the heartbreak he's facing up to in private. With lyrics about how love used to be 'easy' once upon a time before responsibilities came along and 'I went and messed it up and fell in love', this is one of the deepest Monkee songs - if only 'Pool It' had been full of wiser, maturer songs like these I'm convinced the band would have added another ten albums at least to their canon instead of just one more similarly patchy 'reunion' album. Along with 'Heart and Soul', it's easily the best song here and clearly written by 'fellow' 1960s refugees, with a riff even Boyce and Hart would have been proud of and a reflection of what it is like to be older, if not wiser, and finding out that your life is built partly on a lie.
'Midnight' is another Micky cover song from the mysterious 'David' (presumably not Burt Bacharach's writing partner Hal David), who doesn't seem to have got another mention across the whole of the internet that I can find. It was chosen by producer Bechirian who thought Micky would sound good singing it and he's right, up to a point: Micky does sound good singing it (although then again Micky sounds good singing most anything). However as a song it's another composition that doesn't sound awfully Monkee-ish: a third-person song about a person slightly the wrong side of the law (bootlegger, smuggler, petty gangster - we never quite find out) and the girl left at home worrying about him is more something Bruce Springsteen would sing than The Monkees. The closest to this in the Monkees' canon is 'Mr Webster', that tale of greed and hoarding where all the characters lose dripping with emotion that isn't reflected in the singer's voices - by contrast Micky's vocal is dripping with emotion for characters who never quite come into focus and who never truly become three-dimensional. There are hardly any 'facts' about the characters in this song - who they are and what they're doing - which would be fine in their own right (they contribute to this song's feeling of mystery and shadows) if it weren't for a chorus that's dripping with, to coin a phrase, 'heart and soul'. The way Micky sings 'Midnight...and it all comes down!' make it sound like Armageddon (especially in 'the darker side of town', a great line not only demonstreating that it's night-time but hinting that these shady deals go on all the time there), but all it seems to mean in practice is an agent making his 'drop' as planned in the last verse and the listener is left hanging as to whether this is a good or bad thing. A sterling guitar solo) adds some belated drama to the last verse, but otherwise the song is a little too lifeless and anonymous to really pull off what Bechirian probably had in mind: a dramatic song concentrating on just Micky's voice to pull everything off; sadly the backing musicians seemed to have other plans for this song. Another song that isn't bad and, indeed, lyrically is particularly strong but which sounds rather anonymous as part of the album.
'She's Movin' In With Rico' is the second big surprise on the album as The Monkees go reggae! Well, of a sort: this is the sort of watered down white man's version of reggae 10cc made popular, but unlike the worst examples of the genre (The Beach Boys 'Sunshine' from 1980 springs to mind as a band completely mis-reading how reggae works and why) this song has an energy and verve many similar attempts lack. The song may well have been chosen as Peter's 'comedy' moment on the album (yep, he only ever had one - 'Your Auntie Grizelda' from 'More of the Monkees', assuming the spoken word 'Peter Percival Pattersen' doesn't count as a 'song'- but the powers-that-be seemed adamant that Peter would get on this album somehow, in the end offering him three) but Davy sang it for the album and he does a great job once again on a genre that must have been totally new ground for him (writer Andrew Howell isn't exactly known for this style either, although whether the reggae lilt came from him or 'Pool It's producer is anyone's guess). Davy really seems to identify with this song in fact (his soaring vocal on the line 'some you win - and some you lose!' is the last time we hear his voice really purr on record) and the rest of the band have woken up a bit too, turning in perhaps the greatest group performance of the record outside 'Heart and Soul'. For once the rather lacklustre rat-a-tat drumming on this album really works to this song's advantage, the sheer relentless power behind this track seemingly dragging the poor narrator through a song (and a scenario) he really doesn't want to face: the love of his life moving in with Rico, a guy down the same street. While the lyrics are simple and seemingly deliberately childish (there's even a 'na-na-na' singalong chorus; the epic finale to 'Hey Jude' it isn't), it all sounds heartfelt and it's easy to sympathise with the heartbroken narrator as he bids his 'last goodbye' to 'the love of my life, leaving today'. To be fair to the narrator, too, he has plenty of opportunities to take pot-shots at Rico ('everybody's hero', as he so brilliantly sneers on the chorus) but chooses instead to tell us how great she was, not how bad he is. One of the better album tracks, then, although you have to say it has almost nothing in common with Monkee songs of old and even passionate fans would have been hard impressed to recognise the band (again, why didn't Micky or Peter provide the backing vocals to make it more 'Monkees-like' as there are plenty of opportunities in this song).
'Since You Went Away' is that Peter Tork comedy moment we've been promised for much of the album and it's, well, arguably better than 'Your Auntie Grizelda' but hardly up to Peter's own work. Why on earth did everyone insist on turning the clock back to 1966, on an album that seemed to have worked so hard to make the Monkees sound older on this record? Peter gamely tries his best on a Michael Levine song that could almost be a 'Grizelda' sequel, with the hen-pecked boyfriend suddenly discovering his talents now that a domineering female is gone from his life forever, but the song is quite a difficult one to sing (even Micky might have trouble with this, which garbles words-per-minute almost as fast as Monkee B-side 'Goin' Down') and is too much of a strain for Peter's voice (listen out for him having fun screaming during the fade-out, however!) Lyrically this song is genuinely funny in parts, if not quite as hysterical as it thinks it is ('If I had brains you said I would pawn them') and the fact that 'I have friends who mean what they say' is a clever hint at just what a swine the girlfriend was and who she surrounded herself with, without needing the narrator to be 'bright' enough to notice! Musically, though, the backing is again lacklustre and prevents this song from having the bounce it needs to sound truly fun and fancy free. Curiously the song fades-in too: was this a homage to period songs like The Beatles' 'Eight Days A Week'? (which has a similar breezy couldn't-care-less tone, albeit with quite a different outcome) Was an earlier verse meant for the opening that got 'dropped' during editing? Or did the musicians make a mistake? A curious mis-match of the clever and gormless, I'm willing to believe all three...
The album then ends with 'Counting On You', a third and final drippy Davy Jones ballad written by Alan Green, that surprisingly Davy himself wanted for the album (clearly 'pitched' for the younger model circa 1966 - the song is caught halfway between the melodic 'I'll Be True To You (Yes I Will)' and narrated 'The Day We Fall In Love', whilst having the charm and naiveté of both, quite unlike the Davy of the late 1960s). Starting with the rather twee opening gambit of counting down from 'ten' to 'one...of these days I'll be back with you', it sounds like the rather staid and awkward 'love song' in the middle of a musical when everyone stops dancing and gets their breath back, rather than a 'proper' song in its own right. There is a neat play on words in the second verse at least (this time Davy counts down to 'gate forty two' which is where his girl is waiting for him and he counts back up again to feel 'ten feet tall' with her by his side) but by and large this song is just too slow and too uninvolving to get worked up over and a rather anonymous way to end the album. Even a fourth and final guitar solo (which sounds rather distant, as if it was recorded down the end of a tunnel) can't help the song.
Overall, then, 'Pool IT' is not what it could and should have been. The Monkees' 1986 tour went better than anyone expected, the feelings of nostalgia and fun that people experienced being a neat coda to a career that had (unfairly in my view) ended badly the first time round and gave a lot of closure to a lot of people. Had 'Pool It' capitalised on that feeling of things being like they were, but different which this album hints at in songs like 'Heart and Soul' and 'Don't Bring Me Down' then this could have been a winner. Unfortunately a combination of poor song choices, faceless performances (except on a couple of the songs on this album that really made the grade and made everyone play better) and a lack of feeling for what the Monkees were and stood for rather scuppered the project. More involvement from The Monkees would have made all the difference and an overall sound that at least reminded us of what they sounded like rather than what everyone sounded like in 1986 would have gone a long way towards that. But at the same time you understand and sympathise with this album's problems: there is no one 'Monkee' sound but lots of them; without Mike Nesmith involved this was always going to sound like three Monkees taking turns in front of a karaoke machine and without the promised backing from a big label or MTV or a big-name label confidence was low and it's remarkable this album had even the collection of highlights it has. 'Pool It' tries to answer some of those problems and at its best ('Heart and Soul' 'Don't Bring Me Down' 'Gettin' In' and 'Every Step Of The Way') has answers for all of these problems, sounding like it really knows how to update Micky, Davy and Peter for an older audience who still love them and a new audience who have just discovered them. And yet at other times this album is as 'lost' and out of its depth as The Monkees so often were on their TV series, stranded in an alien landscape but this time without the ability to fast-talk their way out of trouble and without the songs to keep them out of trouble. This time, too, they need to pay the 'rent' for real and can't get a job anywhere else. In that context 'Pool It' doesn't entirely swim but doesn't entirely sink either, a mixed bag of songs and recordings that should have been better but could have been a lot worse. Overall rating - 5/10.