Published on July 17th, 2014 | by Dave Scaddan


Aaron Freeman (a.k.a. Gene Ween) – Freeman

Gene Ween is dead, but Aaron Freeman is still with us, making music. We take a look at his new record, the aptly titled ‘Freeman.’


Gene Ween is dead.  Some say he died because he drank and drugged his way into a rock n’ roll life that he had to put behind him.  Some say he died on a stage in Vancouver when his entire band walked off on him and left him in a hole he never really crawled out of.  Others would tell you that he’s been dead for years, still touring, still putting out an album with Dean every three or four years, but as a crust of his former self, as a frontman of what Aaron Freeman has called, “a showcase act.”

Aaron Freeman is still alive.  With a new album of original material — not just covers of Rod McKuen numbers — he is burying the boognish without betraying the brown.  On his own, he is not better than Ween — though he says his sobriety has made him “weirder”; he is, however, sweeter than Ween, deeper than Ween, needier than Ween, and most of all, Gene-ier than Ween.  Those who wish to point out that Freeman’s solo music sounds like Ween without Dean Ween are stating the obvious, like saying that milk tastes like less-chocolatey chocolate milk — it’s a lazy, throwaway observation.  What Freeman sounds like now is worth considering more carefully, especially to Ween fans hoping that the ride is not over, that it’s just branched into more than one path, like when Mickey Melchiondo (aka Dean Ween) started making Moistboyz records in the mid-nineties and Ween releases started coming out every two years instead of yearly.

First, he sounds refreshed.  Not just sober, but excited and ebullient, like he’s cleared his throat and gargled with the bitter truth before tasting freedom.  Dude can still sing like an angel and write songs that couldn’t come from anyone else, and ‘Freeman’ finds him still shuffling genres like his former band, taking the listener through twelve tracks that mostly lean on his acoustic guitar, occasionally delving into strings, sequencing, electric guitar, and organs.  Aaron even has a go at a guitar solo on ‘(For A While) I Couldn’t Play My Guitar Like A Man’ — a track that thinly veils in metaphor his story of temporarily losing his passion for music.

Mickey Melchiondo will like this solo — he should, anyway.  It’s not as mind-blowing as what he might have done with it, true, but it’s loaded with feeling and character.  Melchiondo once said in an online guitar instruction video that his number one rule for solos is that everyone misses, but the best miss big, citing Jimmy Page as the man who could push a solo beyond the limits of what his fingers could do, but still amaze everyone with what he just went for and recovered from.  Freeman’s solo (a bright, bluesy one) does exactly this, willingly exposing the reach of his playing because it’s the only way to express how happy he is to be holding the instrument, writing and playing songs with it that say how he feels.  It’s not the most skilled moment on the record, but it’s the most important; it’s the moment when the Ween fan listening is told that things are different now, but that Aaron Freeman is still a solid student of music’s many modes and moods.

Another important moment comes just a few minutes into the album’s first track.  ‘Covert Discretion’ catalogues the downfall of Ween and Freeman’s place in it, from the social ostracism of the touring lineup to the poisonous relationship he came to have with a fan base that was only too happy to indulge him in the substances that would have killed him if he hadn’t detoxed.  One verse finds him in a hotel bathroom with Ween fans feeding off the drug-fueled encounter, a meeting that only leaves him emptier and more desperate and alone when it’s all over.  Freeman sneaks the bitterness into an otherwise sweet-sounding memory just like he has before on Ween songs like ‘Nan,’ ‘Birthday Boy,’ ‘Baby Bitch,’ and ‘I Don’t Wanna Leave You on the Farm,’ putting one or two dashes of vitriol in an otherwise innocuous ballad, not expressing the soft side of love without exposing the rough side as well.  But this time it’s clearly autobiography in plain-faced type.  It’s a Dear John letter to the band, the love of his young life, a letter that gets snarlier as it gathers steam to an unforgettable coda.

By the time Freeman is singing the song’s final refrain, “Fuck you all, I’ve got a reason to live and I’m never gonna die,” it’s clear that this will be an album he could never have made as Gener.  The rest of the album follows in this vein of personal, heartfelt songwriting, a statement album, if you will.  Ween fans will be refreshed, but still feel welcomed into these new songs, with Freeman’s unique vocals conjuring the pull of familiarity.  Freeman’s weirdly affected, English garden-style delivery that once graced songs like ‘Buckingham Green’ and ‘Right to the Ways and the Rules of the World’ finds a new home with ‘Black Bush’ and ‘Golden Monkey,’ probably the brownest of the new songs.  We still get to hear Aaron’s touch-of-the-East mystic singing on ‘El Shaddai,’ sounding a little like it did on ‘Flutes of the Chi.’ He also employs his Latin-infused vocal style from such classics as ‘Mister Would You Please Help My Pony?’ or ‘El Camino’ on a few tracks, but it doesn’t sound like he’s playing it for comedy, it’s more like this is just one of the many attitudes Freeman can pull out of the bag when he needs it.

There are two things to help us come to terms with the demise of one of the best bands (live or in studio) that the nineties produced, even though it seemed that they would go on being wonderful forever.  The first is that Ween have ended because one of them needed to put it all behind him in order to stay alive, lest much of their gleefully goofy back catalogue be irreparably sullied behind the veil of a pathetic rock n’ roll overdose.  The second is that the music is not over, and ‘Freeman’ announces this with no confusion.  Aaron Freeman is too much in love with music to stop, and we love him too much to ever let him.

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is a teacher who enjoys writing and talking about movies, music, and books.

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