As the Presidents of the United States of America were turning out novelty hits in the mid-'90s, it was easy to take them for granted, ignore them, or even hate them, depending on your disposition. First of all, they were stuck in the midst of a flood of post-grunge guitar bands that turned on the fuzz boxes, bashed out a few chords, and occasionally hit a hook or two. POTUSA weren't all that musically dissimilar from those punk-popsters and sludge rockers, except for their knack for ingratiatingly catchy hooks and a relentlessly irreverent sense of humor. That humor could come off as silly or smug, especially when placed in the context of the age of uber-irony. Once that age died in the late '90s, so did the Presidents and the band disappeared, only to surface again with Freaked Out and Small on a small indie label in the fall of 2000. Apart from the times, not much has changed with the Presidents, who still make catchy, punky pop tunes, but dammit if they don't sound better than they ever did. Maybe it's because the album stands in direct contrast with the teen pop and rap-rock that dominate the mainstream rock audience, or maybe it's because their jokes are now clever and silly, the production is varied, the songs are breezy, melodic, and catchy. Or maybe it's just because in this stripped-back production, the band never sounds self-conscious. They just sound like they're having fun, and that fun is contagious -- something that wasn't always true with their first two albums. Maybe the Presidents are just blessed with fortunate timing, releasing this album in a year nearly devoid of fun, hooks, and silliness, or maybe they really have gotten better. Either way, Freaked Out and Small feels like the best record they've ever done. Chances are, it's the one that the least amount of people will hear, but anyone that seeks it out will be surprised by how much fun it is.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine