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On Second Listen: The Presidents of the USA – These Are the Good Times People

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    Chris Ballew and his fellow commanders-in-chief returned to tiny, round, plastic disc this election year with These Are the Good Times People, the Seattle band’s follow-up to 2004’s comeback of sorts, Love Everybody.

    First thing’s first. If you haven’t checked in with The Presidents of the United States of America (PUSA) since their “Lump” and “Peaches” heyday in the mid-nineties, be warned that these Presidents are not those Presidents. (Piggy’s little blue car has been scrapped for parts it seems, and as far as we can tell, Chickie is no longer on the gas.) Sure, the fun and irrelevant brand of power pop that once made PUSA relevant is still present (as are the legendary guitbass and basitar), but the band has evolved from garage band that plays silly little songs to, well, garage band that plays really, really good, silly little songs. The hooks are catchier, the song structures more refined, and the vocal delivery and lyrical phrasing more compelling, all while never losing the raw energy that has always made PUSA an instant good time.

    “Mixed Up S.O.B.”, “So Lo So Hi”, and “Ghosts Are Everywhere” are in the vein of classic PUSA barnburners, only now the band seems able to inject an added dimension absent in earlier efforts. “Ladybug” proves once more that Ballew is his generation’s Hitchcock (Robyn not Alfred) with a rocking rundown of what all his bug friends are up to. “More Bad Times” is as close as Ballew gets to writing a love song, with lamentations that a former love “never got mauled by a mad baboon,” “never got poked in the eye with a spork,” and “never got sick from all that leftover pork.” “French Girl” and “Warhead” are two tracks that would have had “filler” written all over them on previous PUSA albums, but creative vocal arrangements transform these skippable songs into essential listens and serve to demonstrate how the band has taken its songwriting to a level only hinted at on earlier recordings.

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    PUSA’s musical branching out on this album can’t be ignored. “Sharpen Up Those Fangs” is a perfect pop song that demonstrates what a horn section can bring to rock & roll when utilized properly. “Flame Is Love” is a semi-successful foray into the world of swing, with Ballew sounding more like a Cherry Poppin’ Daddy than a founding father. “Deleter”, the album’s closer, might be the biggest surprise of all. We knew PUSA could “kick out the jams,” but on this track, guest vocalist Fysah Thomas helps the band find its groove and “bring in the funk” in a funkadelic romp that can’t help but make listeners smile.

    Admittedly, I wanted this album to be real good. No, I needed it to be real good. Why? Because PUSA fills a huge, irrelevant (but vital) void in modern rock. Would you believe that the songs “Truckstop Butterfly”, “Poor Turtle”, and “Loose Balloon” are actually about, get this, a butterfly, a turtle (bass not reptile), and a loose balloon? Who but the Presidents writes these songs, and God bless them for it. These songs provide escapism at its best, and on some days, Chris Ballew’s world of stuffed animals, bugs, and creepy-crawlies is a sanctuary of silliness that any music lover can appreciate.

    This is the fourth election year in a row that PUSA has given us a new record, and we can only hope it won’t be four more years before we hear from them again. With Andrew McKeag officially replacing long-time band member Dave Dederer, who had gradually stepped back from his presidential duties in recent years (America needs full-time presidents), the band is as stable as ever, and fans can look forward to more great music from this unlikely trio.

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    Now to use up all of these leftover presidential puns and jargon.

    So fifth term is the charm for these Presidents. No debate about it. Approval ratings soar. Ballew & Finn: 2012…

    How about I just leave it at this: I’m casting my ballot for These Are the Good Times People as one of the best albums of 2008.

    You Can’t Impeach Peaches!!!!

    Sorry. I’m done.

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