In season 12 of Supernatural, Rick Springfield played Lucifer and Vince Vincente, a rock star who Lucifer possessed. I stopped watching Supernatural at least six seasons ago but that’s still enough time to get the general aesthetic of the show. So I feel like I know it well enough to confidently state this conspiracy theory: The Snake King is Rick Springfield’s attempt to provide a soundtrack to a musical episode of Supernatural starring Lucifer as played by himself. Because oh my God, does this album sound like the aural equivalent of Supernatural, except a little bit more try-hard.
The ambiance of Supernatural, especially the early seasons, is ill-defined Americana. It’s a show that tries to be multiple things at onces, jumping from style to style and bad guy to bad guy. Genre-wise, The Snake King does the same thing. This album cannot decide on what it wants to sound like, only that it wants to sound tough, gritty, and hard. Some songs have a more country-western tinge, some are straight up attempts at hard rock. One of the oddest selections, “Judas Tree”, is a blatant blues song, as Springfield goes through the motions of blues lyrical structure and blues sound, but run through a Hollywood lens. The overall sound is something generic, royalty-free music that would be played in the background of a biker bar in a Hollywood film or in the background of a truck commercial, something that tries to sound hard and tough and swaggering, but never can fully get over it’s middle-of-the-road sound and trappings.
But the sound would be forgettable if it weren’t for the lyrics. There’s no way around it: these lyrics are downright childish. They’re the sort of over the top edginess that you’d expect from a snotty teenager going through their atheist phase, not a grown man in his sixties. Jesus was an atheist! God is dead! It’s not a phase, mom! The name-drops are gratuitous and confusing, as if Springfield just found out who a person or what a concept is and wants to prove that he knows it exists. Springfield works in demons and devils for the sake of working in demons and devils, painting himself as this sort of demonic sexed-up underworld rock Satan…but again, with an exceedingly limp sound to match. There’s potential here: if he either reigned back on the lyrics or went amazingly hammy on the performance, then he might be able to sell lyrics like “I am the snake king” or “there’s no such thing as peace / it’s a fallacy for fools.” As it is, they fall flat and confusing.
Some of the songs feel cobbled together and structurally unsound. “Little Demon” is bizarrely unpredictable, which could be interesting if it wasn’t confusing. But if something isn’t structurally confusing, it’s structurally boring; “Orpheus In the Underworld” takes that prize. The song is a tired ten minute track where Springfield blasts politicians for being hypocrites, attacks God for the fact that humans are fallible, sings about feeling up the Virgin Mary, clumsily references Buddhism and the Israeli/Palestine Conflict, and name drops Jesse James over a sound that reminds me oddly of Hootie & the Blowfish and repeats the same melodic line every minute. There’s no melodic change between the verses, there’s no difference, it’s just the song that never ends and never stops criticizing the world and posturing about Satan. Ending the album on a ten minute song that’s just one minute repeated ten times is lazy at best. Despite all the lyrics about Satan and devils and demons, ending the album on this song is the most evil thing it’s done.
And then I did a bit more research, and what was going to be an article that trashes this baffling, confused album gets a bit of an afterthought. Springfield mentioned in an earlier interview that during 2017, he was in a bad depressive period and considered suicide. That definitely helps explain where the album came from and how it might have formed. And if recording this album helped Springfield work through his depression and get to a healthier mental state, then I’m glad he did it. But the context behind an album can only inform it so much. These revelations about Springfield’s personal life might explain some of the choices he’s made, but they do not change the fact that some of the choices were downright baffling.
This album isn’t awful. There are some songs on here that are passable to decent. One of the highlights is “Voodoo House,” a straightforward sex jam that fits the bright sound. It’s one of the few songs where Springfield doesn’t try to take a religious bent or push down your throat that he’s an angsty sexy devil man and Jesus is deeead. But a halfway decent song isn’t enough to redeem this confusing mess. Listening to The Snake King was an exercise in someone trying very hard to tell a story and sell a mood, without thinking through the foundations of the mood and the basic steps to tell a story in the first place.