Reviews \

On ‘Freeman,’ the Former Gene Ween Recovers More than Just His Name

SPIN Rating: 7 of 10
Release Date: July 22, 2014
Label: Partisan Records

Recently in The Atlantic, Joshua Wolf Shenk countered the lone-genius myth with the example of cool Paul McCartney and wild John Lennon: competitive collaborators who created better music as a pair than as individuals. But Lennon and McCartney were pussies compared to Gene and Dean Ween, who operated more like synergistic enablers, pushing one another to increasingly outrageous, surrealistically satirical extremes. In 2012, however, Aaron Freeman tossed aside his Gene Ween mask, unilaterally broke up the band (not unlike Lennon), and released his first adult solo album, Marvelous Clouds, a baroquely contrived yet surprisingly sweet and sober collection of vintage soft-pop tunes by Listen to the Warm (1967) author Rod McKuen.

Now simply Freeman, with all the liberatory zeal that implies, the former Gene is pursuing his professed goal to get “lamer…in a very good way.” And as far as recovery-rock albums go (Aaron is seriously on the wagon), Freeman is a cut above similar efforts. Aaron leans heavily toward the post-Beatles work of both Lennon and McCartney, combining the former’s emotional honesty with the latter’s unstoppably melodic sentimentality. And he sounds comfortable with his new band, a pristinely recorded quartet that frames his lyrics with music just interesting enough to not overwhelm them. Plus it’s awesome when he cuts loose and rips off his own solos in the gently weeping Clapton/Young/Lennon/Floyd/etc. hybrid, “(For a While) I Couldn’t Play My Guitar Like A Man.”

Leading with dirty laundry, Freeman opens with “Covert Discretion,” an acoustic story-song account of the infamous 2011 Ween gig during which the singer performed in a mortifyingly semiconscious state. Aaron owns it, however, and responds to critics with “Fuck you, I got a reason to live,” and a big Queen-y climax. He sounds similarly sincere in the heartfelt romantic schmaltz of “More Than the World” and in the Lennon-esque “Golden Monkey.” Freeman free-associatively and mock-affectedly paints a self-portrait as a sort of tongue-in-cheek spiritual hysteric in one of the album’s two Weeniest tracks, the other being the deeply psychedelic “Black Bush.”

Freeman, who looks about a decade older than his 44 years, has said, “I’ve always been an old Jewish man in a young person’s body.” That may explain, though not completely validate, mystical folderol like the Kabbalah-scented “All the Way to China” and the Michener’s Source-inspired “El Shaddai.” Yet the power of Freeman lies in the personal, and we’ve already got Madonna to serve us our Jewish mysticism lite. Why dump one used persona to merely pick up another readymade?