The Real Presidential Debate

Presidents Of The United States Of America - II - Review

2 1/2 Stars
"The Presidents of the Unites States of America II"
The Presidents of the United States of America

Who knew? Could anyone have predicted that the Seattle indie band with the screwball songs and funny instruments (bassitar, guit-bass) would become the multi-platinum band that people love to hate? The Presidents of the United States of America did well during their first term of celebrity, going from fleeting one-hit novelty status ("Lump") to bona fide two-hit wonderdom ("Peaches"). Back with a sophomore effort titled with a nod to Chicago and Led Zepplin, and issued, it just so happens, on Election Day '96, these Presidents have never met a joke that was too broad, too obvious or too goofy to be worth a laugh.

The most interesting thing about the Presidents is their churning, insidiously catchy sound, fueled by a strange tug of war between skittish tempos and straightforwardly repetitive riffs. The wry, vaguely sinister "Bath of Fire" is top-notch sing-song material. "Volcano" is equally catchy, with a deft, speedy verse that is actually more infectious than the overbearing rawk of the chorus, in which metal-guitar riffs and hard-rock piano snake around a big bottom that would make Derek Smalls proud. (editor's note: This is a hip Spinal Tap reference. Look it up.) Less successful are the faux-jazz cadence of "Froggie" and the indulgent cocktail pop of "Puffy Little Shoes," an overlong and - to be perfectly blunt - utterly moronic song dragged down by guitar solos, busy '70s keyboard touches and a gratuitous lyrical reference to Urge Overkill.

The driving force behind the Presidents' commedia dell'arte ought to be irony. What's remarkable here is the lack thereof in songs such as "Tiki God," which revolves around a beloved Brady Bunch episode, "Supermodel" (no one should write a song with a title like that at this point) or "Toob Amplifier," an 82-second burst of punk-pop hookery that celebrates gear and golf clubs. As a lyricist, Chris Ballew could be Nicholson Baker (profound microscopic ruminations), but he's more like Andy Rooney (trivial microscopic ruminations) or Jerry Seinfeld (songs about nothing). It's no wonder "Weird Al" Yankovic didn't score with his recent Presidents parody, "Gump" - you can't poke fun at a joke band. especially a joke band that isn't always funny.
-Jason Cohen

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