Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Pre-Fab Ten

When Davy Jones passed away last month my first instinct was to let my mom know. He and Peter Noone were her teen pop idols, and I knew his death would be news that she needed to hear. Preferably from someone who wouldn't mock her still admittedly juvenile taste in music.

My second was to make sure Marc with a C knew. The Monkees are a musical influence that this Orlando singer-songwriter still wears plainly on his sleeve, and I similarly surmised that it was passing of which he should be made aware. Preferably from someone who wouldn't mock his juvenile taste in music. #bazinga

Marc, of course, had already heard. He's a cat with an ear to the ground with regard to music news. (That's just one of our many commonalities.)

More importantly, it seems as though Marc with a C was already hard at work on a fitting tribute to a fallen hero. Good Clean Fun: Marc With a C Sings The Monkees! is a 10-song collection of cover songs from throughout the band's career. And, since this is Marc we're talking about, the project tends to linger over deep cuts.

He kicks things off with a pitch-perfect take on "The Porpoise Song," the theme from the film Head. He adds the odd bit of Jonathan Richman jangle to the affair, but it's exactly the type of cover that will strike a chord with classic fans. It's followed up by a thicker, more rocked-up take on "99 Pounds," one of the album's finest moments, as well as title track "Good Clean Fun." Marc excises a bit of the country-western flavor of the original, which is sorely missed, and in doing so he makes it almost too easy for younger fans to mistake this for a Marc with a C original.

"I Wanna Be Free" from The Monkees debut LP is a stripped-down affair that somehow manages to keep the delicate feel of the source material. "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone," alternately, slows down this cover of a cover… of a cover… for an even more sinister sound. Marc's take on "The Girl I Knew Somewhere" almost comes through as a bit too thin, but the natural percussion and resonance of its acoustic drive manage to transform it into something exquisite.

This plays well off a banjo-free interpretation of "You Told Me," among Marc's strongest two minute showings to date, and an even more southern-fried version of Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones's "What Am I Doing Hangin' 'Round?" A gentle fade brings us to a very grimy "Writing Wrongs," a song I never cared for in its original form, but I find this one's creepy, experimental grind growing on me.

The closer is a plodding take on "Don't Bring Me Down" that crushes the 60s-pop-by-way-of-80s-soul feel of its Michael Nesmith-free inspiration. Easily the most ambitious track on the album, it admirably forges its own path even if it (like "Writing Wrongs" before it) monkeys—see what I did there?—with the two-and-a-half minute recipe for Monkee music greatness.

The Monkees were a fake band, a meticulously crafted charade designed to target a very specific demographic. They were the epitome of corporate music, designed by producers to generate profit and not art. But The Monkees rebelled. A band that the press—specifically the European press, which is known for being particularly nasty—lambasted as artistically bankrupt fought to not only be allowed to hewn their own craft, but to exercise control over their output.

The patently manufactured group that delighted the American youth audience (and made NBC a shit-ton of money) with their screwball faux-Beatles antics also went on to make the self-aware, feature length acid trip that was Head. The actor-vocalists that signed on to star in a musical sitcom turned on their handlers and began to take at least some semblance of control of their production, instrumentation and musical legacy.

In the contemporary world of reality television and auto-tuned radio hits, The Monkees should stand out as an attractive alternative, as soldiers that defected to the side of angels. But they don't. Their catalog is still viewed by the nostalgic old guard as a musical relic from a by-gone (read: better) era, yet aside from the brief and occasional resurgence contemporary acts fail to find inspiration in The Monkees rebellion. And they similarly neglect the pure pop perfection of the sounds of Dolenz, Nesmith, Tork and Jones often layered atop the lyrical musings of Carole King and Neil Diamond.

Except for Marc with a C. He knows. He sees. He understands. He is, if you'll pardon the cliché, a believer.

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