Todd Snider Peace Queer

[Aimless; 2008]

Styles: country, Americana, singer/songwriter
Others: John Prine, Dan Reeder, Ike Reilly Assassination

If you knew nothing about Todd Snider or George W. Bush, and were to meet them both, you might think they were good friends, if not brothers. Both men flaunt a good-ol’-boy sense of social charm; both men have been known to laugh and joke around with drunken glee; both men have have appeared at times to be blindly fearless (and reckless) in their profession; and both men are cut from the Loser Cloth &mdash -- one welcomingly so; the other, well, he's said to be the most powerful man on the planet. Here's the point: if these two men, all circumstances and personal histories aside, were to meet, they'd likely slam a case-and-a-half of Lonestar, smoke a few bowls, and take turns getting each other into friendly headlocks. Noogies. They'd laugh themselves to sleep, then do it all over again until their wives — or Johnny Law — made them stop. If horses were available, they'd ride ’em.

Such is not the case. Snider writes stoned rock ’n’ roll songs about Bush and his New America. He doesn't so much scream and accuse as he does poke fun and document in plain speak, in a way that only a kindred spirit could. At their inner cores (from what the ill-informed commoner can gather, that is), these two men are ethical opposites. This makes Snider — a twangy songwriter who not long ago wrote joke-y throwaway songs about beer — a lucky man with an easy, always interesting subject/target. Considering the uncountable number of embarrassingly uninformed Dubya-era political songs, Snider has of late been a man amongst men, with his latest offering, the eight-song Peace Queer, once again proving his unique understanding of the most controversial man of this decade.

Once a figurehead (read: youthful pawn) for the overproduced Nashville niche, Snider has been playing it rough since his stellar 2004 release, East Nashville Skyline. If 2006's career-best The Devil You Know sounded like a collection of rocked-up country demos, then Peace Queer sounds like a batch of unmastered toss-offs from those sessions. The sound of Snider's production and instrumentation is that of a 1950s Chuck Berry, but with fair amounts of twang tossed in. It's a sound that more than fits his gravel-road voice.

With reality come laughs; Snider understands this, never taking himself too seriously, despite the weightiness of his presidential subject. Peace Queer's opening track, "Mission Accomplished (Because You Gotta Have Faith)," is a good example of Snider's duality, taking its name from two obvious, completely unrelated sources: (1) Bush's now embarrassing banner hanging on the USS Abraham Lincoln after quickly — and wrongly — declaring "victory" in Iraq; and (2) a certain George Michael song that will seemingly never die. Serious. Funny. Serious and funny. The tune opens with Michael's memorable rhythm arrangement (which rides through most of the song) before turning into a collection of timeless one-liners ("Fighting for peace is like screaming for quiet"), creating a decent setup for what is Snider's most focused — albeit hardly produced and very brief — record yet.

Peace Queer's centerpiece, a lo-fi story of a modest youth who gets smacked around everyday by a school bully, makes for two of the album's eight tracks, first as a spoken-word piece and later as a full-blown rocker. The story here isn't about a bully or a student, it's about — you guessed it — the current war in Iraq. Everyday the bully beats the smaller classmate up as Snider sings, "Is this thing working?/ Is this thing on?": his way of asking if the U.S. government is listening to its own people. "You'll never hear him say this now because he thinks we still don't know/ But winning this battle everyday cost our bully the way a long time ago," sings Snider. "And of all the scars he's got to show/ For every blow that kid sneaks in/ The worst one is probably knowing that tomorrow he's gonna have to get up and fight that kid again." The song works as an unofficial sequel to Snider's own "You Got Away With It," the story of Dubya told through yet another metaphor: the government as a set of rowdy fraternity brothers.

Those three cuts, along with "The Ballad of Cape Henry," "Stuck On the Corner (Prelude to a Heart Attack)," and "Dividing the Estate (a Heart Attack)," make for one of Snider's strongest offerings yet. The other two tunes here, the instrumental "Ponce of the Flaming Peace Queer" and a once-again-relevant cover of "Fortunate Son," work fine, but, coupled with the album's brief tracklist and tossed-off nature, they make Peace Queer little more than a focused stop-gap between proper albums. Now working on two new records (one with producer Don Was and another titled Shit Sandwich), Snider is poised to ride his still newfound knack for political writing off into the East Nashville sunset, beer on his breath and the highlights from Peace Queer ranking as forever setlist-worthy.

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