MUSIC REVIEWS: The Monks Reissued—Black Monk Time & The Early Years 1964-1965
I’m not quite sure why but Light in the Attic Records decided the time was ripe for some Monks reissues. The Monks released one album in 1966 and no one has heard from them since, but now you can check out that original release with a handful of bonus cuts as well. The back story of The Monks is far more interesting than the actual music. The members of the band met while they were stationed in Germany. Knowing their military background, it comes as a surprise (or maybe not so much of one) when you hear the first song on Black Monk Time, “Monk Time,” come blaring out of the speakers. This rousing rave up quite openly and outspokenly decries the Vietnam War. This however is the only song that seems to make any kind of statement. Most of the songs are sub-par garage rock riffs with nonsense being screamed and chanted over them.
This isn’t entirely a bad thing. Mindless rock ‘n’ roll is indeed a great pleasure and this album is a decent listen. The quality of the songwriting just isn’t good enough to hold my attention. “Higgle-Dy-Piggle-Dy” is a fun little number with a raging feedback section that predates any of The Velvet Underground’s recorded work. “I Hate You” is another decent garage stomper. But that’s all that can be said about this album. It’s decent. Nothing here is particularly catchy or good enough to have been an off-kilter classic like The Count Five’s “Psychotic Reaction” or something like that. Black Monk Time is good vintage background music and nothing more. Unless you’re a 60’s psychedelic garage rock fanatic you can skip this.
The Early Years 1964-1965 doesn’t fare much better. The majority of these songs are on Black Monk Time and manage to sound even less like fully formed songs here. “Monk Time” is missing much of the fire that the finished version has. The organ and banjo are featured more prominently here which I guess is a good thing because their unconventional instrumentation is one of the only things they’ve got going for them. Gary Burger’s vocals are nothing special and kind of annoying although he does sound like he was a big inspiration for Mark Sultan (The BBQ half of The King Khan and BBQ Show) so we can all thank God for that. “Pretty Suzanne,” a song that was not included on their full length long-player, is one of the best songs in the set. It’s somewhat of a ballad and without a doubt has the best melodies on the album. Still, like everything else here, the repetition becomes obnoxious. Her name is Suzanne and she’s pretty, we get it.
The last two tracks on The Early Years 1964-1965 are The Monks’ original demos from when they were still called The Torquays. These are pretty conventional pop-R&B tunes and they are probably the most enjoyable part of the album. If you’re a Monks fan you might want to check out these very early recordings. If you’re not then nothing here will probably do anything for you.