CD Review of These Are the Good Times People by The Presidents of the United States of America
Recommended if you like
Giraffes, Cheap Trick, the Beatles
The Presidents of the United States of America:
These Are the Good Times People

Reviewed by Jason Thompson


he arrival of a new PUSA album always signals a breath of fresh air; a good shot in the arm, if you will. The fact that they called it a day a few years back and then got back together for the sheer love of being together – and making the music without worry of being all over MTV or the radio anymore – says more about them than most bands who regroup after a split (I’m lookin’ at you, Van Halen). That PUSA haven’t changed their outlook or style says a lot as well. What was first looked upon as almost a novelty act was pure and simple from the beginning. Only on Freaked Out and Small did they really divert from the “two bass guitar strings/three lead guitar strings plus drums” setup. Not to say the sound hasn’t “opened up” over the years; indeed, their last album, Love Everybody, was a pop tour de force, and that continues with These Are the Good Times People.

But everything you ever loved about PUSA is still here. Most of the songs revolve around strange female characters who need some love and attention, cartoon-like bugs and animals, nature and the great outdoors, or good old love itself. Kicking off with “Mixed Up Son of a Bitch,” the guys rip into one of those confused female types, with Chris Ballew dishing out lines like “Desperate living so divine / A sugar cube empire so divine / She’s stuck in gear, it’s just too bad it’s reverse / You say I’ve seen bad, well I’ve seen worse.” A few tracks later, the band is putting “French Girl” under a microscope and coming up with the simple conclusion “Don’t ever get involved with a French girl,” even though the song’s protagonist is doing just that all the time, despite the fact that he knows better.

The most touching tune on the album is undoubtedly “More Bad Times.” In it, Ballew lists off all the things the girl he loves never did (“You never suggested we play charades / You never picked up live hand grenades”). She’s perfect in his eyes, never going down the usual routes most everyone else does with various vices, or never getting sick. But the great twist comes near the chorus when Ballew sings, “You twisted your ankle, I carried you / You got a divorce, so I married you / You fell off a cliff, so I buried you / I wish there were more bad times to see you through.” It’s a distinctly Chris Ballew love song with its twisted humor and honest, open emotions – so many people writing love songs these days just don’t put that in their work. Maybe they’re not really feeling it after all.

On the nature front, there’s the funky good “Ladybug” that falls right in line with such former classics as “Boll Weevil.” There’s also the acoustic country-boogie of “Truckstop Butterfly” and the perfect power pop of “Poor Turtle.” And in the best mix of messed-up chicks and nature, there is the new wave/garage rock-tinged “Sharpen Up Those Fangs” that only goes to show how hollow and rote so much of that angsty fake emo crap really is. Here, PUSA touches on a lot of the same ideas that all those other bands try to make a career out of, yet they present it in a surreal, funky glow that proves all that teenage drama isn’t worth getting hung about. Go figure.

There’s also a touching ode to a “Loose Balloon” (“Just this morning you were flat and deflated / No one knew if you were loved or hated / Just another shriveled up loser in a bag”), as well as the outright silliness of “Ghosts Are Everywhere.” Yet it’s “So Lo So Hi” with its locked familiar grooves and fuzzy guitars reminiscent of the tunes the band cranked out on the great II, that will bring a big smile to any old fan of the group. Definitely great stuff.

In fact, there’s really nothing to dislike here. If you’ve been with PUSA since the beginning, you’ll surely enjoy this one. New fans who just like good power pop and rock with no bullshit are also welcome here. It’s more than nice to still have these guys around after all this time, just doing their own thing without a care. It’s not always easy to find a band still doing it for the sheer love of the music, but here’s a prime example, and you can hear it through and through on every one of these tracks. Here’s looking forward to many more fine moments with the greatest Presidents of the United States of America.

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