Crank It, We’re Doomed
Sometimes an artist makes a record, then decides not to release it. Neil Young and Prince are two artists who famously did that multiple times. Todd Snider is another artist who has done it, putting three albums on the shelf in a career now spanning three decades.
While Snider may not be as well known as Young or Prince, he is just as committed to his art, and his decisions to shelve those three records were artistic ones. But now Snider has decided to take one of those albums off the shelf. Sixteen years after it was recorded, Crank It, We’re Doomed will finally get its release via Aimless Records.
Snider was in the midst of one of the most creative periods of his career when he recorded Crank It, We’re Doomed in 2007. He was writing at a frenetic pace and experimenting with musical ideas he would develop more fully on later releases. He not only finished and recorded the 15 songs on Crank It that year, he also wrote and recorded the seven songs that appeared on Shit Sandwich, the digital-only EP released in 2010 by his alter ego Elmo Buzz & the Eastside Bulldogs. The tracks on Shit Sandwich made up the bulk of Snider’s 2016 full-length release, Eastside Bulldog.
“It was very much a blur,” he says, looking back on that year. “A blur not because of the party going on, but because of how many songs I was coming up with. It was probably the pinnacle of my time making up songs. Like they were really coming at me, and I didn’t know what to do with them all.”
Crank It, We’re Doomed was supposed to be the follow-up to a pair of acclaimed records that had taken his career to another level — East Nashville Skyline and The Devil You Know. The album was mastered and ready to be manufactured when he decided to pull the plug on it.
When asked recently why he decided against releasing the album, Snider puts on his best movie trailer voice and says, “The year was 2007 — the sea was angry that year.”
Snider gets the laugh he’s going for, but the question remains because the why is not so easy to explain. His decision to shelve the record all those years ago was as much intuitive as it was the product of deductive reasoning.
“At the end, I was torn,” he says. “I felt like not only did I have all these story songs, sort of normal songs, there also were all these protest songs. And really that is where I lost the plot. I had too many scenes in the movie, and I had too many songs. It was all over the map. But I also remember feeling like it wasn’t done either. Like it needed more songs.”
Snider had intended Crank It, We’re Doomed to be a double album with the Rolling Stones’ Exile On Main Street, The Beatles (White Album) and Bob Dylan’s Desire as its sonic touchstones/boundaries, and it unquestionably shares some musical similarities with all three of those releases. But with 15 tracks totaling 49 minutes in length, Crank It does fall a bit short of double-album length. Exile has 18 tracks totaling 67 minutes, while the White Album has a whopping 30 tracks that run more than an hour and a half.
Although Snider decided to not release Crank It, We’re Doomed, he did include five of the tracks he recorded for Crank It on his next two albums (Peace Queer and The Excitement Plan), with three of the songs getting new titles. In addition, he recorded new versions of six other songs from the record which were released on The Excitement Plan and Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables. Some fans, possibly many, will prefer the original versions of the songs on Crank It, which in some cases are dramatically different. The record also includes four other tracks no one outside the musicians and Snider’s inner circle have ever heard, and those recordings are pure gold.
Snider recorded Crank It, We’re Doomed at Eric McConnell’s East Nashville studio where he recorded East Nashville Skyline and The Devil You Know and was backed by the core of musicians he worked with on those albums: guitarist Will Kimbrough, drummer Paul Griffith, violinist Molly Thomas, and either McConnell or Peter Cooper on bass. He also brought in keyboardist Jimmy Wallace for the sessions.
At some point after Snider decided to put Crank It, We’re Doomed on the shelf, the stereo masters were lost. Over the years, both Snider and McCullough made efforts to locate the masters with no luck. The subject came up again recently when they met to discuss making another record together.
“We were sitting there just wracking our brains, ‘Where could it be,’ ” Snider recalls. “And finally Eric said, ‘I guess DeMain might have it.’ ”
McConnell was referring to mastering engineer Jim DeMain, and sure enough, DeMain had the masters. Snider’s mythic, lost album was found.
After hearing the record for the first time in more than a decade, Snider was no longer bothered by it being “all over the map.” So he shared it with a few friends and advisors, who recognized its historical importance and encouraged him to release it.
“I couldn’t see it conceptually back then,” Snider says. “But now I can see it was about a guy losing the plot.”