[30 March 2008]
The Presidents of the United States of America haven’t exactly made it easy to be one of their fans. For starters, there was never any official determination of how that name should be abbreviated. The Presidents seemed too formal, P.U.S.A. sounded kind of gross, and P.O.T.U.S.A. read like pro-hemp literature. Then there was the whole “basitar” and “guitbass” business. It was nearly impossible to keep straight how many strings were on each instrument or what tuning they were in. This rendered all amateur recordings of “Lump” and “Peaches” barely listenable. Then, just as we were starting to catch on and adjust to the Prez’s strange, outsider ways, they broke up. Then they reformed. Then they broke up again. Then they reformed again.
Now, the Prez-U-States have made These Are the Good Times People, an album without original guitbassist Dave Dederer. Seattle guitarist Andew McKeag has taken his place, leading to an outcry from fans who just got the spelling of Dederer down pat. On top of this, the Pressies have eschewed all punctuation in the title of their new record, These Are the Good Times People. Are they the Good Times People? Are they addressing us, the listeners, as people and letting us know we are currently experiencing the good times? String Theory isn’t this confusing. It can no longer be questioned—the Presidents exist primarily to confuse and anger the human race. They are a living puzzle that tosses away pieces just as you’re closing in on the solution.
So how does this new offering from the Chief Justices of Rock Chicanery sound? Let me count the ways: like the kind of tepid crap you’d hear in a romantic comedy starring Chris O’Donnell circa 1998; like the kind of album “Weird Al” might put out if he gave up both the accordion, parody songs, and his razor-sharp sense of humor; like the Presidents of the United States are aiming to capture that vital eight-to-ten-year-old-girl market; like the unmistakable palmy grinding of three guys attempting to squeeze blood from a Windows 95 compatible stone. In short, not terribly interesting or energetic. I take specific issue with the guitar—I mean, guitbass/bassitar—tones. It doesn’t even sound like the Prezzles are using their famous Frankensteined instruments on this record. They sound just like some normal jerk-ass rock band, which will not cut the mustard when it comes to America’s favorite balding, white Seattle trio.
Often, the songs on These Are the Good Times People are way too cutesy for their own good. I give as example “More Bad Times”, where the story of an accident-prone love is recounted, or “Ladybug”, which is, believe it or not, about a ladybug. There are quite a few songs about animals on These Are the Good Times People, but I think that’s always been the Presidents’ M.O. Their back catalog is littered with critter-related tunes: “Kitty”, “Boll Weevil”, “Froggie”, and “Tiger Bomb”, just to name a few. Were these guys all zoo employees at some point during their lives? They certainly look the part, what with their wiry frames and toothy smiles. It’s no stretch of the imagination to picture this band hosting its own Animal Planet special about wombats.
Even when the Commanders-in-Chief branch out from their basic rock sound, it still smacks of Lisa Frank. The horn-riddled jazzitrocious “Flame Is Love”, in which singer Chris Ballew goes off on how “crazy” and “wild” love is, would embarrass the dorkiest of fifth graders. “Truckstop Butterfly” has a nice bluegrass feel, but then they muck it up by once again bringing animals into the equation. I hereby present this challenge to the Presidents of the United States of America: if you can make it through your next album without mentioning birds, cats, dogs, bugs, rodents, or any other kind of subhuman creatures, I will personally present you with a $50 gift certificate to PetSmart. I’m not joking. No nature rock next time and you’ll have fifty bones to blow on fish food and scratching posts.
Back to the people who really matter, the faithful music fans across the globe currently reading this (all three of you): if it’s another “Lump” or “Mach 5” you’re looking for, go elsewhere. The Presidents found on These Are the Good Times People are officially lame ducks, serving out their term while rock music elects a new Chief Executive. Hopefully they’ll exit with grace, retire to a spacious Texas ranch, and live out their lives quietly and without comment on future administrations. If they’re lucky, maybe the singer from Fallout Boy, who I feel is the hipster equivalent of Gerald Ford, will eventually pardon them for going on without Dave Dederer and say nothing but nice things about them in forthcoming documentaries on the History Channel.
Don’t blame me. I voted for the Toadies.