Listen to this track by instrumentally unique trio from Seattle The President Of The United States Of America. It’s “Lump”, their 1995 hit song as taken from their second LP that bears their name.
The song was a number one song on Billboard’s Modern Rock chart, and later a number seven on the Album Rock chart. It would later be a feature on several musically oriented video games like Rock Band 2, Just Dance, and others. It would also gain the distinguished accolade of being spoofed by Weird Al Yankovic (his version was “Gump”, which summarized the popular Tom Hanks-led film). The song was a radio single on mainstream radio as well, standing out uniquely even in that time when unadorned guitar-pop was a completely viable direction. It was kind of weird. But, totally catchy.
That’s the thing about this song. It seems pretty lightweight all around, and maybe willfully weird and wacky. But for me, it held within it something else to offer that wasn’t so lightweight, and was actually kind of heavy for a pop song.
This tune, and another one on this record “Peaches” were both hits. But, they were considered to be dancing on the edge a bit in an era when earnest songwriting was more the norm. This song was treated like a novelty song by many a reviewer. Maybe this was to be expected. Setting aside the odd lyrics for a minute, the band’s presentation was notable for their use of oddly-stringed instruments like the “basitar” and the “guitbass”. These were visual curiosities, and maybe they came across as kind of gimmicky. And to be frank, none of these guys looked like rock stars in the way that Chris Cornell or Eddie Vedder did. They looked more like IT guys. In this respect, they were kind of throwbacks to another age all around, accompanied by a seeming attempt to pop the balloon of angst-ridden indie rock of the mid-nineties. That’s pretty punk rock when you think about it.
Yet to me, this song had a chance to offer up some angst of its own, even if it was in a poppy, Buzzcocks-inspired candy-coated punk rock package. The “lump” in question really was in songwriter Chris Bellew’s head, literally. It was a benign growth in fact. At some point in time, that had to have been a pretty big cause for concern for him. And I suppose too that the best way to deal with the stress that lump must have caused was to make a joke about it, and use it as grist to write a song. In that era, it certainly could have made a big deal out of questions of mortality and fear of death, and been right in line with the Nine Inch Pearl Smashing Alice In Jam-style songs that were making waves on the modern rock charts of the time. Instead, they turned the whole affair into a two-minute-and-change punk rock song that told a nonsense story about a girl in swamp.
Maybe that approach was what made this song sound so refreshing at the time. It kind of swam against the tide of the times a bit, and didn’t take itself very seriously. It was not embued with meaning. It was just a silly story played on weird instruments all in a crunchy punk-pop wrapping. In this way, it hearkened back to an age when pop music was about finding the humour in things, rather than wallowing in sadness or fear of death, by lump or otherwise. This song wasn’t meant to change anyone’s life, or make any grand statement about the human experience. It was just supposed to be fun.
And, like a lot of pop music in any era, that’s always been an important purpose to pursue.
The Presidents Of The United States of America are an active band today, after periods of inactivity. Find out what they’re up to these days at presidentsrock.com.
In addition to rocking out with the Presidents, singer and bass player Chris Ballew also has a sideline in children’s music (aimed at an audience who really appreciates music that’s fun …) under the name Casper Babypants. You can learn more about that project at babypantsmusic.com.