Snider's latest, Happy to Be Here -- neither plain nor cloyingly clever -- manages to open your mind to rumination rather than snap it shut on opaque wit. In "Long Year," as wistful as it is cranky, he sings, "You know, I've always been afraid of the 12-step crowd/They laugh too hard, talk too loud." "Lonely Girl" is gently Springsteenish, with such evocations as "Like a sunny day someplace else, the music plays, but it doesn't help." Even riffs on obsessive-compulsive girlfriends and the futility of prenuptial agreements are handled with subtlety as well as humor. And the music has gained as much texture as the words, with Snider's woody strumming and meaty tenor sounding more at ease and richly recorded than ever. As Newman and Costello learned, playing the smart-ass can make you popular, but really opening up can make you great.
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