Freeman (Gene Ween) Freeman
by Adam Perry for the East Bay Express 7/16/2014
Since forming the oddball alt-rock act Ween with Mickey Melchiondo (aka Dean Ween) in an eighth-grade class near Philadelphia, Aaron Freeman (aka Gene Ween) has played very weird and very memorable music (Ween was, in some ways, to Frank Zappa as Phish is to the Grateful Dead) and struggled mightily with drug abuse. Two years ago the malleable-voiced singer-songwriter announced the end of Ween in a Rolling Stone interview, to the shock and rage of not only the band’s fans but also Dean Ween, his bandmate of almost 30 years. Now, the artist formerly known as “Gener” has unveiled an album called Freeman–with a band called Freeman–that serves as a proper solo debut (Marvelous Clouds, an exceptionally strange—but underrated—collection of Rod McKuen tunes, was released in 2012).
“Covert Discretion,” the LP’s opener, establishes Freeman as the most earnest, or at least outspoken and personal, work by anyone associated with Ween. Written a week after Freeman’s incredibly ugly 2012 onstage breakdown with Ween in Vancouver, “Covert Discretion” alludes to his fight to either keep himself sober or keep making big money, and triumphantly ends with a repeated coda of “fuck you all / I’ve got a reason to live / and I’m never gonna die.” Freeman, which juxtaposes the androgynous operatic rock of Queen and early Elton John with Freeman’s more jangly late work with Ween (see: “Tried and True” and “Spirit Walker”), occasionally grates with religious tales of “wheels of alabaster” and golden monkeys. But its highlights, like the inviting “(For a While) I Couldn’t Play My Guitar Like a Man,” with its endearing guitar solo a la “The Stallion Pt. 3,” are a window into how hauntingly brilliant Ween records like White Pepper and Quebec might’ve sounded with a focus more on introspection than Zoloft and cocaine. If only Bill Hicks was alive, he’d have Freeman as proof that sober musicians don’t always suck.