The Presidents of the United States of America are catchy but thin on their latest, These Are Good Times People. The Seattle three-piece is best known for their mid-nineties self-titled debut, with its upbeat, post-grunge and even anti-grunge singles “Kitty”, “Lump”, and “Peaches”. After breaking up in 1998, they had a short-lived reunion in 2000, worked briefly with fellow Seattleite Mr. Mix-A-Lot, before getting back together more permanently in 2004 with Love Everybody. While Good Times certainly has more hooks than Love, it’s still a minor collection of power-pop/rock and over-the-top irony.
Throughout Good Times, The Presidents employ simplistic chords and words, leaving catchy tunes with lame lyrics that scratch inside your skull. Opener “Mixed Up S.O.B.”, “French Girl”, “Ghosts Are Everywhere”, “So Lo So Hi”, “Poor Turtle”, “Rot in the Sun”, and finisher “Deleter” all can be fun if you don’t listen too hard, but have real trouble with resonance. There is something more on a few tunes, like the fuzzy “Sharpen Up Those Fangs” (reminiscent of neo-Beatles Apples In Stereo), but it’s hard to hold on to.
The other notable facet of The Presidents is their use of ‘basitar’ and ‘guitbass’ – regular six-strings converted to two (for bass) or three (for guitar) strings (the idea initially came from late Morphine frontman Mark Sandman). Since Love, Andrew McKeag has more or less permanently replaced charter President David Dederer on guitbass, with basitarist Chris Ballew fully taking over on vocals. The set-up gives the band a more garage, even rockabilly, sound, but it is less remarkable than it might first appear.
The attempts at country-twang, “Ladybug” and “Truckstop Butterfly”, are probably the record’s weakest tracks, even more simple and grating. Meanwhile, sweeter pieces like “More Bad Times” and “Loose Balloon” are just okay, sometimes cloying. Things do get better when The Presidents go old school, like on the rockabilly-smart “Flame Is Love” and rockabilly-garage “Warhead”, showing better use of range.
In the past three election years, The Presidents of the United States of America have released a record, and one can’t help but feel nostalgia for the Clinton/grunge-era after two terms of W. But as Hillary has been finding out on the campaign trail, nostalgia ain’t enough to carry you through – and it’s doubly the case when it’s something you only kinda missed anyway.