Yet another of modern-rock radio's sudden one-hit wonders, the Presidents of the United States rose from obscurity in Seattle to ubiquity on radio and television without a moment's notice. It's a funny thing about so-called "alternative radio" and the record industry: One minute a band is slugging it out on a tiny indie label in Seattle (PopLlama), and the next it's putting out the same album on a mammouth major (Columbia, part of the Sony empire) and landing a video on MTV that seems to play over and over again like some Swedish porn loop.
The single "Lump" is indeed worthy of the attention: It's wry, funny, ridiculous, and annoyingly unforgettable; but it's the sort of out-of-nowhere hit single that grows tiresome after you hear it the third time, mostly because there ain't much to it - a crafty hook, a catchy beat, and then ... nothing, a dead end down a road you've traveled before. It recalls Hagfish at the band's weakest, when melody is sacrificed for dumb fun and the sound of a power chord is drowned out by self-satisified laughter.
The Presidents are less the '90s MC5 and more the punk-pop version of a band like the Chickasaw Mudd Puppies, a long-forgotten duo that made a hell of a first impression at a South by Southwest conference (like the Presidents) and then disappeared into oblivion. The Mudd Puppies (like the Presidents) were the sort of band easily mistaken for novelty: Two guys playing strange and silly country-punk songs on wacky made-up instruments, turning every stage into a front-porch jamboree. They disappeared after one album without scoring a single hit, but for a brief moment the Athens, Georgia-based band reinvented the wheel with humor, wit, and a disregard/admiration for convention.
The Presidents are the Puppies' power-pop successors, with hick-rock songs like "Boll Weevil" and "Back Porch" more than recalling the Mudd Puppies' stomp-and-holler, while the MC5 cover "Kick Out the Jams" reminds you there's punk in here somewhere. These Seattle-based boys, who have no more than five strings between them on their wacky "guitbass" and "basitar" concoctions and who are aware enough to recognize their own shortcomings ("We Are Not Going to Make It"), are this year's novelty, surely to be forgotten once the new Green Day album is released or Jawbreaker takes off or Oasis scores a hit single ot the AC/DC renaissance busts loose. Then again, somewhere someone thinks the Muffs are hot shit, too.
The Presidents of the United States will perform October 5 at the Galaxy Club.