Album Review: Todd Snider – The Excitement Plan

Stephen Deusner | June 10th, 2009

Todd Snider - The Excitement Plan Todd Snider was never a square, but he did start out as a relatively straight-laced country-rocker with a good sense of humor and a keen ear for the ways word can reinforce melody and vice versa. In recent years–okay, let’s face it: during the Bush Administration–he has really let his freak flag fly, venturing into talking blues numbers that recall Country Joe and venting his outrage with a grin on his face. Snider is the rare artist who was funnier and more entertaining the more political he got, and his proudly pinko worldview made his 2008 EP Peace Queer a compellingly ramshackle affair. As such, he comes across as something of an outsider in his adopted hometown of Nashville, although I think he plans to attack from within.

On his eighth studio album, The Excitement Plan, the imminently quotable Snider comes across like a trippier, even more countrified Randy Newman, except he probably won’t be doing Disney tunes any time soon. The album title comes from Snider’s own economic recovery effort–which seems to involve recreational drugs and recreational troublemaking–and is populated with his particular brand of dignified misfits; the bumbling killer in “Unorganized Crime” and the beaten-up optimist in “Doll Face” are quintessential Snider characters, as is Dock Ellis, the Pittsburgh Pirate who pitched a no-hitter while tripping on LSD. On “America’s Favorite Pastime,” Snider has a blast with the imagery: “Taking the ground, the mound turned into the icing on a birthday cake,” he sings. “The lead-off man came up and turned into a dancing rattlesnake.” But Snider isn’t advancing a pro-drugs agenda–okay, maybe a little–but he’s more interested in recounting a weird moment in our shared pop-cultural history.

Snider recorded The Excitement Plan with producer Don Was, who sets these songs to rambunctious live accompaniment. The pair assembled a small backing band and recorded the disc in two-and-a-half days and with minimal rehearsals, which gives the collection the casual verve of a Sunday afternoon jam session. On “Bring ‘Em Home,” the album’s catchiest song, they put some real snap in Snider’s pop hook, and they swing loosely on “Barefoot Champagne” and its implied sequel “Don’t Tempt Me.” Loretta Lynn co-wrote the latter and plays Snider’s romantic foil, and they’re a hoot together: Over a rolling, rollicking piano line, he comes across as all shaggy nonchalance, and she’s all brassy disregard, as if she’s seen all too many shaggy nonchalants in her time.

Of course, Snider is not only his most complex character, but also his biggest loser, and much of The Excitement Plan is devoted to the kind of candid soul searching you wish every other guy with a guitar could pull off. But Snider just makes them look like they don’t have a soul to search. For all his trouble-making, flipping-off-The-Man ways, he wonders if perhaps he might not be too old for the possession charges and jail cells. “How do you know when it’s too late to learn,” he wonders aloud on “Greencastle Blues,” which finds him handcuffed uncomfortably and waiting for bail. On the other hand, he also remarks, “You know the number-one symptom of heart disease is sudden death,” which sounds all the wiser for being a bit elusive.

Make your trouble while you can—you never know when your time is up. That’s the epiphany implied on the shambling valedictory closer “Good Fortune”: “When you stand back and look at the long and the short of it,” Snider sings, “what else is there to do but sing.”

4 Stars

  1. Leeann Ward
    June 10, 2009 at 2:30 pm

    I haven’t listened to this album intensely yet, because I’m waiting until I have time to give it my full attention. I’m looking forward to it though and I’ve enjoyed what I’ve heard so far.

  2. Rick
    June 10, 2009 at 4:59 pm

    Stephen wrote: “Snider is the rare artist who was funnier and more entertaining the more political he got, and his proudly pinko world view made his 2008 EP Peace Queer a compellingly ramshackle affair.”

    Now that is purely a matter of personal opinion / perspective, or should I say contention for us right wing extremist types. Whenever music artists go “pinko” in their music they immediately earn a place of dishonor on my “ignore their new stuff completely from now on” list. Todd joins such notables as Steve Earle, the Reckless Kelly lads, and Tom Russell on that list. I find much of what Rush Limbaugh says extremely entertaining, and somehow I just don’t think liberal NPR types would grasp my amusement…

  3. Gary Zarda
    June 10, 2009 at 7:13 pm

    So much of the ethos of this site is based on on a dislike of the cliche, so it’s nice to see(hear) music that dares to offer a view of politics/social issues outside of the simplistic redneck certainties of the top 40. That’s why I have become a fan of some of the very artists derided above. Yup, I took the bait.

  4. Stormy
    June 10, 2009 at 8:29 pm

    Rush Limbaugh is too cliche too be funny. He needs at least three new jokes.

  5. Trailer
    June 10, 2009 at 8:37 pm

    This is a really strong album. My favorite Snider disc in a while and that’s saying a lot. Even though I lean more to the right than Todd, I don’t mind his message songs because he’s so damn endearing. I’ve written off most of Earle’s new work (though not his Townes album) because of his ham-handed way of writing about politics, not because of his politics. Todd is able to make me laugh at myself for being a conservative. Steve tries to make me feel guilty. Other lefty faves of mine like Reckless Kelly and Roger Clyne handle the sensitive issues fairly well, but they better watch it, lol.

  6. Leeann Ward
    June 10, 2009 at 10:11 pm

    You know, Trailer, that’s probably the best description of why I like Todd Snider so much that I’ve read. While I’ve given into the fact that I lean more left than right (much to my parents and religion’s chagrin, I’m sure), I’m probably still more conservative than Snider too. But there’s just something about him that’s so dang endearing, as you saywhich simply is not the case with Steve Earle (though there is some stuff I like by him too). As Steve points out in his review, the guy just sounds like he’s smiling through it all, which is the way I like to hear my political/social stuff served up, if I have a choice.

  7. Leeann Ward
    June 10, 2009 at 10:12 pm

    Sorry, I should have written “Stephen” rather than “Steve”.

  8. idlewildsouth
    June 11, 2009 at 12:20 am

    I haven’t had a chance to listen to this album, but I can speak of his past work, concerning his pinko sentiments. While i’m as proud a right wing extremist as the next guy, I think there’s a certain style of pinko songwriting that doesn’t completely turn me off. Like others have said, I feel like Todd Snider tells me how he thinks what I believe is stupid, without sounding like he’s saying i’m stupid, if that makes sense.

  9. Paul W Dennis
    June 11, 2009 at 5:49 am

    I know that Snider is much doted upon by many, but I’ve never found his material to be all that interesting. I don’t care for him as a singer, regardless of his political sentiments, since I find his voice annoying. The production on this album sounds interesting, so I will give it a listen when it hits the discount bins, as it likely will in about 90 days

  10. Kelly
    June 11, 2009 at 6:12 am

    I am just not “getting” this album yet. After a couple of listens, I am just not enjoying it as much as previous albums…I miss him rocking out a bit.

  11. Leeann Ward
    June 11, 2009 at 6:15 am

    I doubt that I could even find Snider in the discount bin anywhere where I live, let alone on a regular CD rack.

    Todd’s voice certainly isn’t what I’d call good in the technical sense, but it’s definitely the kind of expressive that goes a long way for me. I even like the way he pronounces his words…kind of lazily.

  12. Mike Parker
    June 11, 2009 at 9:08 am

    I have to echo the sentiment above regarding Snider vs. Earle. I used to be a huge Steve Earle fan, but I can’t even listen to a lot of his newer stuff. Snider doesn’t play militant, he plays with a sense of humor and humility.

  13. Larry Kerflapowitz
    June 11, 2009 at 1:11 pm

    There is something utterly endearing about an artist that can poke fun at us, and at the same time, allow us the breathing room to enjoy the laugh, albeit at ourselves. I think that’s what he does in some of his more politically inspired writing. Everything is fair game, however– the right gets the specific spotlight, but his albums are, in my opinion, equally accusing of the slacking characters he paints with his lyrical brush to his left… he seems to have enough self-awareness to know, while some of his characters lifestyle choices may not be right, they do seem to enjoy their carefree existence.

    I think he’s one of the most clever writers strutting around between our two coasts, and regardless of vocal presentation, you’re just flat missing out on lyrical brilliance if you choose to dismiss his writing because of topic or tenor.

  14. Bo
    June 11, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    I get turned off on all the “pinko music”. It’s cliched pablum intended to score points with the pseudo-intellectual pansies in hopes that they declare your lightweighted butt a “deep thinker”. Whoa, dude, you’re against the war. War sucks,man. Give me something original like a LSD laced no hitter.

  15. Leeann Ward
    June 11, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    He definitely doesn’t just talk about the war. I’d get tired of that too. I like how he’s not always straightforward too, ’cause I’m a sucker for good sarcasm.

  16. Stephen M. Deusner
    June 11, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    He really only addresses war in one song, “Bring ‘Em Home,” which I see less as an anti-war tirade and more as a sincere attempt to see the world from a soldier’s perspective. That strikes me as a pretty generous and powerful act of empathy, plus it’s got a great hook.

    But yes, a whole album of humorless war or politics songs would get tiresome, as Steve Earle’s The Revolution Starts… Now proved. But what strikes me most about this album and most of Snider’s music is his self-deprecating streak — because he’s questioning his own motives and beliefs more than anyone else’s, he never comes across as condescending or self-righteous.

  17. Stormy
    June 11, 2009 at 2:22 pm

    Aside from which someone has to make music for us pinko commie whores–we do make the best groupies after all.

  18. Gary Zarda
    June 11, 2009 at 4:18 pm

    Bo knows…pansies. I actually agree with what you say about trendy liberalism. Both sides have people that like to apply labels to themselves without really knowing their consequences.

    Back to the music: Who are the smart conservative voices in music? I ask with all sincerity.

  19. Andrew Lacy
    June 11, 2009 at 4:41 pm

    Charlie Daniels would be a good example of a conservative voice in music, but for the most part a lot of singers don’t seem to feel the need to make a big deal about their conservatism aside from an occasional patriotic song. John Rich is the exception, but that’s more about promoting himself than his views.

    With that understanding, Trace Adkins is an example smart conservative singer who doesn’t make it a focus of his music.

  20. Chris N.
    June 11, 2009 at 5:43 pm

    Funny, they used to “make a big deal” about it. Wonder what happened?

  21. Andrew Lacy
    June 11, 2009 at 6:50 pm

    Homogenization of country radio would be my guess.

  22. Stormy
    June 11, 2009 at 8:17 pm

    Billy Joe Shaver.

  23. idlewildsouth
    June 11, 2009 at 10:56 pm

    Your right Stormy, after all, “If You Dont Love Jesus (Go To Hell)”. I would second the Charlie Daniels and Trace Adkins.

  24. Hardy
    June 12, 2009 at 11:10 am

    Bought the CD last night. Incredible is the only way to decribe it.

  25. Stormy
    June 12, 2009 at 11:41 am

    I think that is one of the things that is most understood about us pinko commies–Its not the conservative message of the songs that bug us, its the simplicity and poor writing of that message. Had Toby Keith written a song called I Heart Ossama and Barbara Streisand would would have hated that too.

  26. Guy
    June 12, 2009 at 3:53 pm

    If he’s a “pinko” liberal who puts that stuff in his music — I sure don’t plan to listen to him either.

  27. Chris N.
    June 12, 2009 at 4:17 pm

    Then you know what? Don’t.

  28. M.C.
    June 12, 2009 at 4:27 pm

    Seeing “Todd Snider” and “relatively straight-laced” in the same sentence would likely amuse most anyone who has spent any time around him.

    But saying he recently ventured into talking blues is, well, plain wrong. His first famous song–from 15 years ago–was called “Talkin’ Seattle Blues.” It’s on his debut album, which opened with the Country Joe-style “My Generation (Part 2).” Todd’s been thumbing that road since the first Bush administration, to be honest.

    He’s always been funny and pointed, at least for me, and consistently entertaining and clever for a long time now.

  29. Stormy
    June 12, 2009 at 8:20 pm

    How can you not listen to a song that contains the lyrics:
    I’m as broken as the Ten Commandments and often as hard to follow?

  30. Ben Milam
    June 14, 2009 at 3:02 pm

    been listening to this record for a few days. todd’s getting to sounding more and more prinish with every album now. i picked up one of only two copies that were available at the local hastings. i like it, but as someone said earlier, i think i like some of his previous work a little better.

  31. idlewildsouth
    June 15, 2009 at 10:24 pm

    He sounds freakishly like Randy Newman

  32. Molly
    August 12, 2009 at 1:28 pm

    This might be my favorite Todd Snider album. I love it. One of my favorite lines is, “Everytime I tried to climb out of this wihsing well, I’ve only made it up just high enough to hurt when I fell.” He is genius.

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