The Presidents of the United States of America – Freaked Out and Small

5 out of 5

Label: MUSICBLITZ Records

Produced by: Martin Feveyear

And so the story goes – a story most PUSA fans will be familiar with – that amidst all of the hooky grunge happening in the 90s, Lump  and Peaches’ three chord simplicity and silliness made it all too easy to overlook the skillfully delivered pop at the core of the Presidents’ sound; you were guilty of singing along to the single as well, and so after enough spins, the band can be brushed off as a relic of a time.  PUSA didn’t do themselves any favors by repeating a lot of the simple and silly tricks on their followup.  Same smart skills delivering a fun set, but essentially fit the template of the debut and so wasn’t turning any new ears.

A few years later, that scene could be said to he well and over.  The early 00s: Grunge had morphed into alt-metal, and on the polar opposite side (…and yet so similar), boy bands and pop girls.  Indie kids were championing Matador and Touch and Go; burgeoning years pre-ease-of-access-to-everything internet.  So where does a quality pop-rock album slot into things?  Well, you could also ask Harvey Danger, amongst a handful of other artists: Unless you were one of the actually cool kids (don’t worry – I was not) who’d recognized the potential hiding behind those MTV singles, and/or had the fortitude to stick it out past the inevitable backlash, you missed out on albums such as Freaked Out and Small.  Which is – if my point ain’t clear by now – too bad, given that it’s a 30-minute singles filled gem.

But there’s undeniable maturity here as well: The band has grown way beyond the three chord strut to form impressive compositions that run the pop gamut – the unplugged swagger of Superstar, the punky fret of I’m Mad, the danceable riffs of the opener or Blank Baby –   and while Chris Ballew’s lyrics still err on the side of humorous, they’re not nonsense, coming up with some pretty clever takes on the norms (dating and band life) and then venturing out into things like genius odes to Death Stars.  Harmonies and an endless stream of catchy hooks abound.

While I do think I have to be in a particular mood for the grinning groove of PUSA 1 or 2, Freaked Out and Small is one of those precisely cut slices of record that you can put on at any time, immediately perked up by it, and keep it spinning for multiple listens.