CANNABIS CULTURE – If anyone’s worried that being happily married and critically successful has taken the edge off of Todd Snider’s agitated perspective, one listen through ‘Agnostic Hymns and Stoner Fables’ will be enough to put those fears to rest. He’s obviously not one who believes in mellowing with age and this time out Snider’s got his sites set on nasty lawyers, corrupt investment bankers, desperate pensioners, and the evils of organized religion. In other words, all of the usual suspects have come out in force to make up what may be the best entry in Todd Snider’s already impressive musical catalogue.
In the early years of his career, Snider’s music was very reminiscent of John Prine, Jerry Jeff Walker and Rambling Jack Elliot as he too wrote and sang political story songs in the tradition of Woody Guthrie. While the social critiques of his early years haven’t diminished at all, since the early 2000s Snider’s music has taken on a distinctly harder, more electric edge, perfectly suiting the desperate situations he sings about. On songs like ‘New York Banker’ and ‘In Between Jobs’ Snider masterfully blends outrage and dark humour to say more about the state of life in modern America than any full length documentary or sociology text book ever could. Guns and broken dreams, laments for love gone wrong and apologies for spoiled childhoods are amongst the subjects that Snider treats his listeners to this time around.
If that sounds a little too depressing and close to the bone, don’t worry. Beneath the obvious level of despair and outrage, there is always a glimmer of hope as the characters in his songs usually realize the absurdity of their situations and come back swinging with a ‘fuck you’ attitude that is uplifting and hopeful. Whether he’s singing about how the rich have always used religion to control the poor – as he does in the opening track ‘In the Beginning’ – or about how good people are driven to desperate acts (‘The Big Finish’) – there is always a sense of strength and resilience in Todd Snider’s songs that is much stronger than the sense of hopelessness he often describes.
There’s nothing easy or relaxing about any of the songs on ‘Agnostic Hymns and Stoner Fables.’ Guns, backstabbing, betrayal, and dreams left in the dust spew like shrapnel from Snider’s loose cannon approach to telling a story.
The opening track, ‘In the Beginning’ which argues that from the very start of civilization, religion has been the tool that the rich have used to control the poor is typical of Snider’s perspective. Even when situations seem to turn out right in his songs, there’s always an implied threat around the corner. For instance, the deceptively gentle lullaby for ‘Precious Little Miracles’ with its lovely vintage Hoagy Carmichael style acoustic melody may lull listeners into a sense of calm at first, but listen carefully and lyrics such as ‘so, your school is a joke and you’ll always be poor and your pleas to the rich won’t be heard anymore/is that what you crazy kids are so upset for?’ could be enough to set anyone’s day on edge. Add to that the sloppy Keith Richards just out of bed guitar riffs that Snider so obviously loves and uses to great effect on songs like the acerbic ‘New York Banker,’ and ‘Agnostic Hymns and Stoner Fables’ may just be a serious contender for the album with the worst attitude of 2012.
Not for the faint of heart, Snider’s music has never sounded so focused and precise as it does on ‘Agnostic Hymns and Stoner Fables.’ While it’s unlikely that he’ll be riding the top ten or having his songs sung on ‘Glee’ any time soon, Todd Snider continues to be one of the most challenging and interesting performers making music today. Highly recommended.
You can listen to ‘Agnostic Hymns and Stoner Fables’ on www.toddsnider.net.
– Read an exclusive Cannabis Culture interview with Todd Snider here.