The album isn't as much of a stylistic departure as one might expect. Although there are fewer high-on-mushrooms moments than any given Ween song, there's still some ethereal psychedelia throughout -- on songs like "All The Way To China" and "The English and Western Stallion" especially. "Golden Monkey" and "El Shaddai" share some Ween silliness, but the bulk of the record is more personal and heartfelt.
In a recent interview, Rolling Stone asked Freeman if he was apprehensive about whether his songwriting would change as a result of getting sober. Freeman responded:
Absolutely. First, getting sober is not a thing where you've reached nirvana all of a sudden. When you really get sober after a long time, after years and years, you're left feeling very vulnerable. And in fact, your brain is really trying to repair itself, and it takes a while. So I held onto the belief that well, I've been writing songs — pretty much the same kind of songs, very present, journalistic songs — since I began writing songs when I was 18. And from the day I stopped panicking about "was I ever gonna write again?" — within a couple weeks, [songwriting] started. It really is like a muse that comes to you, and it was wonderful. So now that portal is open again and I'm really looking forward to making music in the future.
The wistful tone of Freeman seems self-referential. Aaron's concern that his writing would be affected by getting sober comes through in the writing itself, making his lyrics more earnest and the emotions more powerful. The record's true potency is in its honesty, with songs like "Covert Discretion" and "(For A While) I Couldn't Play My Guitar Like a Man" telling the sad, true stories from the last few years. Many of the songs play like Freeman's Ween-era songs "Baby Bitch" and "Birthday Boy" -- with his feelings laid bare and unembellished lyrics -- but about different types of breakups.
Aaron Freeman killed off Gene Ween and found his own reason to live. The album is forthright, strange, melancholy, and irradiating. The music follows the genre-bending trends Freeman has long been known for, but his exemplary songwriting feels more mature and less goofy than ever before.
It's not all heavy, though, and Freeman's brilliant sense of humor shines through everywhere. He closes the album with "I Know A Girl," an old-timey, White Album-esque ditty that conveys a silly sense of optimism -- the same kind of optimism one must possess to leave Ween and keep writing excellent songs.
Freeman is out now on Partisan Records. Stream it above or purchase it through Amazon.