First things first: Put aside your Scissor Sisters comparisons before reading any further. Dante Gizzi’s vocals may initially seem similar to Jake Shear’s, and the first glace at El Presidente as a whole may strike you as stylistically comparable, but repeated listens and closer inspection reveal the Glasgow five-piece has more to offer than Scissor Sisters. Combining a classy image with a blend of glam rock, synth, pop, funk, and dance, El Presidente’s self-titled debut is designed to get you off your ass and have some fun.
El Presidente has the best three-song album opening you’re likely to hear. This is finely crafted, hook-laden territory that founder and front man Gizzi and company are navigating. Right out of the chute with “Without You”, the band puts its cards on the table with Johnny McGlynn’s heavy guitar and Dawn Zhu’s drumming. It’s a hard rocking pop song about the longing of a guy who has lost the perfect girl. Followed up with the driving drug binge ode, “Rocket”, El Presidente counts down a sleazy futuristic glam rock beat. Finally, radio stations can permanently shelve their copies of Loverboy’s “Working for the Weekend”, because the combination of a circular guitar riff and to-the-point lyrics (“I’ve been going nowhere 100 miles per hour / I’ve been going nowhere ‘round and ‘round and ‘round / Saving myself for a high-speed Saturday night”) propel “100mph” into weekend party anthem territory for the new millennium.
As great as the openers are, the standout track comes at the halfway point in the album. McGlynn’s bluesy, dirty guitar opens “Hanging Around” before being joined by an ‘80s synth line courtesy of El Presidente’s teenaged fifth member, Laura Marks. With Thomas McNeice’s rolling bass line and some fun, messy vocals throughout, the whole band gets into the mix. The soaring “Keep on Walking” is a nod to T. Rex (replete with “Na-Na” chorus!), without feeling clichéd, and the menacing “Honey” is like a combination of Prince and Massive Attack at their darkest. The only stumbles are found on “If You Say You Love Me”, “I Didn’t Really”, and “Old Times”. It’s not that there is anything glaringly wrong with these tunes; their hooks just aren’t as strong as the other nine songs on the album.
While El Presidente’s image as that of a hip, culturally diverse band serves them well, Gizzi’s Jason Schwartzman-meets-Prince looks and sense of style define the band. And the group’s blender repertoire that recalls P-Funk, Prince, Led Zeppelin, and the Bee Gees never feels forced or schizophrenic. In fact, that diversity is what elevates the collection of songs above those of wannabe hipsters and “it” bands.