No. 1 with a Ballot

The Reform Party

Ross Perot's infomercials may be deranged, but he clings to his platform: reducing the deficit and government bureaucracy. On II, the follow-up to their left-field debut, the Presidents of the United States of America aim to reduce recording budgets and instrumentation, epitomized by Chris Ballew's two-string guitar. On the album's opening fanfare, ''Ladies and Gentlemen Part I,'' Ballew even pokes fun at arena clichés like smoke pots and inane stage patter: ''Are you prepared to rock?'' he sings, both wide-eyed and sarcastic.

Starting with that smarty-pants whimsy, II finds Seattle's only angst-free band sailing through more Romper Room alterna-rock. The trio's songs have such meaty, beaty, big, and bouncy melodies that they sound as if they're playing while bouncing on trampolines. (It's easy to imagine a wacky, ''Peaches''-style video for ''Twig'' or ''Volcano.'') Beneath the goofball cheer, though, Ballew sings of smashing up his Matchbox cars and following bugs around his backyard. When his whiny girlfriend ends up dead, he blames the same ''Tiki God'' from the Hawaiian episode of The Brady Bunch. It's so delightfully unhinged, even Perot might vote for them. A-

The Green Party

Ralph Nader's party aren't closet liberals. Brandishing a platform that advocates environmental concerns and military spending cuts, the Greenies are up-front about their leanings. Want to bet they recycle dutifully, wear Birkenstocks, and love Joan Osborne? Osborne is herself a rock & roll liberal, having participated in AIDS and abortion-rights benefits. She's a modern-day earth mama, even on Early Recordings, distilled from two homemade records from '92 and '93.

It's not hard to see why it took Osborne years to break out of the blues-club ghetto. Many of the songs are the serviceable kind growled nightly by bar bands across the country, and she had a tendency to over-scream. But even in her training days, Osborne never failed to toss something new into the mix: The wailing-wall chant in ''His Eyes Are a Blue Million Miles'' and her sultry take on ''Son of a Preacher Man'' indicate where she was headed. Although Early Recordings is a fan memento, few live albums have so vividly captured the feel of being in a small club. You'll be tempted to grab a beer and shout requests for Etta James covers. B

The MTV Party (to Go)

Who better to clinch the MTV nomination than their least annoying VJs? On the soundtrack of Beavis & Butt-Head Do America, all the network's platforms are amply represented. There's cultural desegregation (the Red Hot Chili Peppers cover the Ohio Players' ''Love Rollercoaster''), kitsch galore (Engelbert Humperdinck croons the faux- cabaret ''Lesbian Seagull''), and '70s-retro worship (Isaac Hayes grafts ''Shaft'' wah-wah guitars and cooing backup singers onto B&B's theme song).

Like their supporters, Beavis and Butt-head are desensitized not only to violence but to music — the harder and more visceral the tunes, the better. They're always on the hunt for the next sonic kick. The soundtrack offers plenty of them, from squalor merchants (White Zombie) to video flavors-of-the-month (No Doubt). But the album makes it clear that it's more fun to watch B&B watch their favorite bands than to hear said musicians. When it's all over, you'll want to break something — and it won't be the two-party system. C

Originally posted Nov 08, 1996 Published in issue #352 Nov 08, 1996 Order article reprints

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