THE PRESIDENTS OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
WASHINGTON SOCIAL CLUB
They have a goofy name, of course, but the Presidents of the United States of America also face a more fundamental problem: They're just too catchy to be cool. Understandably typed as a novelty act after the success of 1995's "Lump," the Seattle trio's run lasted only two albums (plus a rarities disc). Now they're officially back and better supplied with hooks than ever. Although it's unlikely to convert their detractors, "Love Everybody" may well be Presidents' finest hour.
The opening (and title) track immediately establishes that time has not blunted singer-basitarist Chris Ballew's facetiousness: "You gotta love everybody / Make 'em feel good about themselves," he counsels. From self-esteem, the band jumps to boyish aggression ("Poke and Destroy''), lust ("Drool at You'') and nature ("Munky River''). One of the sharpest tunes, "Some Postman" is about a mail carrier who feeds vicariously on other people's love letters; in the age of instant messaging, the song's scenario is as quaint as its songcraft. Musically, the album juggles boogie, surf, funk and some very poppy varieties of pop punk. "Take a brick and shut down that guitar," counsels "Zero Friction," but this band's devotion to anarchy lasts only as long as it takes to get to the next frisky chorus.
Melodically, Washington Social Club's "Catching Looks" is a bit less dependable than "Love Everybody." Still, more than half the songs on this D.C. quartet's debut album are grabbers. Such brisk tunes as "Breaking the Dawn" and "Modern Trance" suggest the mid-'80s, when British alt-rock rediscovered skiffle's cantering cadence, while "Backed to the Future" recalls the same period's dabblings in loungey ambience. The album, which remakes some songs that were previously available on an EP, lightly embellishes the band's strum-driven style: "Dead Kid Town," for example, opens with a Bowie-like keyboard riff. As both the title and the ooh-ooh-ooh hook of "Simple Sound" reveal, however, singer-songwriter Martin Royle understands the power of economy and directness.
-- Mark Jenkins
Appearing Wednesday at the 9:30 club. * To hear a free Sound Bite from the Presidents of the United States of America, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8113; to hear Washington Social Club, press 8114. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)