The Presidents Of The United States Of America - II

Srictly a one termer: Presidents slump with 'II'


II (Columbia)

A year ago, the Presidents of the United States of America knew they weren't that good. Their sound was simple and rough; the band took pride in tongue-in-cheek parody of any style they could imitate. Garage-band antics were part of their videos, they looked like they were having fun bouncing around and pretending to play instruments. Their debut featured erratic recording quality, blithe lyrics, and self-satisfied references to their lack of professional ability. In interviews they said they were just happy to be earning a living by drinking and enjoying themselves on stage. Their music didn't lose anything for its simplicity, with songs like "Lump" and "Peaches" proving as addictive as anything on the airwaves.

Now that their rookie season is passed, PUSA has fallen victim to a crippling sophomore slump, and the result isn't pretty. The exuberance and wordplay of the first album has given way to gimmickry and forced humor. The first single, "Mach 5," belongs on the b-

side of anything from the first album. The insipid lyrics are emphasized by a frighteningly bad spoken-word interlude; the singer proclaims his love for his car, calling it "the most beautiful little thing I've ever seen in my life." His favorite part is "riding with the top down.... Hell, I blew the top right off my car!"

Success has made PUSA too good to keep dwelling on their humbler beginnings, so they've littered their lyrics with the trappings of stardom. The opening bite off "Sgt. Pepper" asks the audience "do you have any idea what it takes to rok [sic]?" They go on to explain exactly what it takes, and never stop showing off their sophomore wisdom throughout II. Repeated pop-culture references seem to be on page one of PUSA's Big Book of Rok, as they manage to fit in Darth Vader, Urge Overkill, Mick Jagger, Rolling Stone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bobby Brady, Sony, and the Tiki God, all in little more than a half-hour of music.

Continuing the theme of "rok" legitimacy, "Volcano" is a reminder that the new PUSA is truly a quality outfit, rather than the old PUSA that covered "We're Not Going to Make It" in a previous life. The volatile "Volcano" represents the Seattle music scene, of which they are, technically but regrettably, a member. This time they couldn't get Soundgarden's Kim Thayil to play guitar noodles, maybe because he recognized "Volcano" as a derivative interpretation of Nirvana's great "Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle." The new PUSA is at its musical best in "Volcano." The heavily studio-polished vocals belong with the best of imitation surf-rock, a genre they haven't attempted before. Perhaps it stands out more for its overt refinement, as opposed to forced efforts at recapturing the lost spirit of the last album.

Maybe if II doesn't sell well, the Presidents of the United States of America will disappear. Then, after a few years, they'd have a new album that would seem like a debut. They might again impress fans with the fresh élan that brought them so much attention in 1995. Otherwise, the charming musicians of PUSA might end up buried by the mountain of Seattle-grunge mimicry they so effectively exploited.

--Dan McGarry

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