Amid the clamor of primary politicking, The Presidents of the United States of America are staying true to tradition by releasing yet another album in an election year. The latest, These are the Good Times People, follows in the quadrennial footsteps of 2004's Love Everybody, 2000's Freaked Out and Small and 1996's Presidents of the United States: II.
Impressive for a band that claims this is all just a coincidence and its name is actually an ironic commentary on its lack of political stands (which is totally, like, this huge political stand, right?). Unfortunately, the band seems to be going in the opposite direction of the nation's politics.
While the present campaign is one in which the populous is uncommonly invigorated enough to put down the Funyuns, get off the couch and vote, this album has all the excitement of Reagan vs. Mondale compared with PUSA's earlier work.
And it is hard to view this album independent of the band's earlier efforts, perhaps because PUSA's eponymous debut casts such a large shadow.
I remember when the album came out in 1995. It was great—not just “Peaches” and “Lump” but the whole album. Sure, it was radio-ready. But wasn't that only because the powers that be didn't get the dirty double entendres? I mean, “Kitty”? “Peaches”? Come on. At 15, I felt like I was pulling one over on The Man just by being allowed to listen to it. It was grunge without the narcissistic solipsism; smart, biting lyrics without the typical sappy and staid music.
It was also hard to picture any other band putting out those songs. The new album simply doesn't convey that same feeling. The music has shifted into something less interesting, more formulaic and a tad too cute for its own good. That's not to say the album is bad. The lyrics are still clever, but they're no longer edgy. The music is OK but not particularly memorable.
Good Times starts with “Mixed up S.O.B.,” the first radio single, which I'll admit is catchy, if a bit cookie-cutter. “Sharpen Up Those Fangs” is the best song on the record and, perhaps predictably, is the track that fits best with the band's earlier albums. But the bulk of the album—like “Ladybug,” “Ghosts are Everywhere” and “Truckstop Butterfly”—is a case study in squandered potential.
I tried hard to find an extended metaphor in “Loose Balloon,” but I've concluded that it's really just a lame song about a loose balloon. The Presidents have officially gone from pneumonia-induced delusions, songs about pussy(cats) and odes to strippers (“Lump,” “Kitty,” and “Stranger,” respectively) to songs about balloons. No metaphors, just—balloons.
Music is typically remembered in the context of time, and PUSA brings to mind my early teens. I've gotten older and changed, for better or worse. Careers have been tried and settled upon, friends chosen, some paths taken and others forsaken. For the most part, they were safe choices, ones that I don't imagine will make very good stories for my grandchildren (And then, with the money I saved, I opened an IRA!). The band seems to have done the same, or at least the musical version.
The Presidents broke up in 1998 because singer Chris Ballew wanted to spend more time with his family. They reunited in 2000 to record Freaked Out and Small and then split again until the recording of 2004's Love Everybody. Good Times marks the first album without all of the original members after guitarist Dave Dederer left (and was replaced by Andrew McKeag) because he wanted to be a full-time family man.
That's all fine and good. They're probably good parents and husbands because of it. I'm just not sure I want my musicians making the same life choices I make. I want them to be the evil twin that doesn't have health insurance, contribute to a 401k or wear pants every day. I want them to spend less time with their families and more time on the road, preferably on drugs.
Does that make me a bad person? Probably. Actually, no, that definitely makes me a bad person. It's just that, while most people may like it when their bands grow and mature with them, I'm not sure I do. Music is an escape. For me, this album is not.
I think I'll go listen to “Peaches” again. The Presidents of the United States of America play at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 22, with Ludo, Pleaseeasaur and MaxMister Pyles at Belly Up Tavern. 858-481-8140. www.presidentsrock.com.
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