They Might Be Giants have a lot to answer for. In their wake, for every smart-arse act that managed to forge a lengthy career of weaving humour into alt-rock (take a bow Barenaked Ladies), there are many dozens who toil away attempting to do the same for decades, building a cult audience, but never really enjoying their moment in the sun. Then there are the other acts. Those that shine briefly with what is in effect a novelty hit single, a supporting album, whose career dissipates equally as quickly.
The Presidents of the United States of America are one of those acts. In fact there might even be a case for them to be the best of those acts, especially when you take their self titled debut into consideration.
With “Peaches” as their crossover hit, you might assume that The Presidents of the United States of America’s debut album is massively overshadowed by that one song. Actually, it’s a solid listen, depending on how much “zany” you can put up with. What’s also interesting is that “Peaches”, despite having hit single potential sweating out of every musical pore, wasn’t the first choice of single. Or the second. At least the persistence demonstrated that Columbia Records had a boatload of faith in them. True, it perhaps didn’t hurt that second single “Lump” had cracked the top twenty singles chart, but it was “Peaches” that proved the biggest hit of their career.
Outside the singles, The Presidents of the United States of America is a far more durable album that you might expect, with refreshing and high energy takes on “We’re Not Going To Make It”, and a surprisingly enjoyable version of MC5’s “Kick out the Jams” – a song which cried out to be an opener, but is bafflingly buried in the second half of the album. Minor niggles aside, The Presidents of the United States of America is an album that provides a surprisingly large amount of replay value. While it isn’t as arty and smart-arse as anything by They Might Be Giants, it isn’t a one note joke either. While The Presidents of the United States of America sometimes relies on cheap humour, it doesn’t go too cheap – as Ween were often inclined to do.
The thing is The Presidents of the United States of America displayed the band’s talents so effectively, that the chances were that any follow up was only going to be a rather hollow example of what they achieved here. This proved to be the case, and after a rather limp an disappointing follow-up and a mopping exercise, The Presidents of the United States of America called it a day, at least for a short while. Their reunion has seen new material released, but ultimately The Presidents of the United States of America remains their definitive release.