While their heyday in the 1960s was relatively short and sweet, The Monkees were a swinging success story, a manafactured-for-TV pop group who, at the height of “Monkeemania”, outsold both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Four years on from the death of heartthrob Davy Jones, the three surviving members commemorate the 50th anniversary of their iconic television series, and the release of their debut single Last Train To Clarksville, with their 12th studio album, Good Times!.
For their first collection of new material in two decades, Mickey Dolenz, Peter Tork and Mike Nesmith enlist the help of Fountains of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger as producer, and an assortment of contemporary songwriters to pen some of the tunes. Alongside revamped songs from Harry Nilsson and Neil Diamond, XTC’s Andy Partridge (You Bring the Summer), Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo (She Makes Me Laugh) and the mod pairing of Noel Gallagher and Paul Weller (Birth of an Accidental Hipster), they emphatically capture the playful spirit of what made The Monkees so joyous half a century ago.
Ash & Ice
For 15 years, the electro garage blues duo of Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince have seemingly relished in the creative limitations forced upon themselves as The Kills. With only each other to play off, their stripped-down minimal approach has only been so successful, in part, to Hinces’ mastery of the guitar and Mosshart’s scorched rock queen vocals.
For Ash & Ice, the follow up to 2011’s Blood Pressures, there were far greater constraints forced upon them as Hince had to relearn his guitar technique following surgery to a tendon in his hand. It’s immediately noticeable from dark synth groove of opening lead single Doing It To Death that this has driven the duo to explore their electronic leanings a little deeper. While Hard Habit to Break and Days of Why and How are built around a jittery drum machine and icy beats, it’s still the piercing guitar that colours the 13 tracks, Hince and Mosshart at their intertwining best on the snarling blues groove of Impossible Tracks and Bitter Fruit.
Michael Franti & Spearhead
More than 20 years on from The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy and Michael Franti is still attempting to change the world with the power of his music. While the rebel musician and activist’s idealogies and social manifestos may remain the same, the angle of attack has certainly changed over the years. The positive community vibes of Franti’s most recent albums with Spearhead a far cry from the politically charged industrial rap of Hypocrisy is the Greatest Luxury. On their ninth album Soulrocker, the party spirit is still very much rocking, Jamaican producers Stephen McGregor and Dwayne Chin-Quee (John Legend, Bruno Mars) adding further EDM elements to the hybrid blend of hip hop, folk and reggae, and fulfilling the band’s mission of making impassioned music you can dance to. “Everybody gotta love somebody, every day,” sings Franti over the summer funk of Once A Day, while the dancefloor banger My Lord sitting comfortably next to the soulful beat of Still Standing as Franti triumphantly spreads his message of love, peace, and harmony.
Having lost two guitarists and one longtime drummer over the past couple of years (maybe they should check down the back of their goth sofa), Italian pop metallers Lacuna Coil see their eighth album, Delirium, as not simply a new chapter but “the beginning of a new book”. Produced by bassist and main songwriter Marco “Maki” Coti-Zelati, the follow-up to 2014’s cinematic Broken Crown Halo is based on a conceptual theme of insanity, where “every song is like a room of the sanitorium, where a patient is facing a different kind of illness” , according to vocalist Andrea Ferro, who remains alongside melodic singer Cristina Scabbia. Joined by new thunderous tub thumper Ryan Blake Folden, Zelati plays both the bass and guitar but also brings in some guest guitarists, including Slash’s Myles Kennedy, to lay down a few solos, and pummeling opener The House of Shame certainly heralds a heavier direction. Ferro’s guttural growls and barked vocals, matched by Foldens relentless pounding and Scabbias operatic warbling marks Delirium as a potential Lacuna Coil classic.