Even as part of the brilliantly twisted Ween, Aaron Freeman
has an old kind of pop sensibility. What makes Ween so tremendous is that they juxtapose an old-time country track like “Drifter in the Dark” with one of the most fucked-up sounds ever put to record: “Spinal Meningitis (Got Me Down)”. Now, Gene Ween has shed his pseudonym and strode out on his own as Aaron Freeman, releasing an album of Rod McKuen covers titled, Marvelous Clouds
. Without any originals, though, it’s tough to determine what an Aaron Freeman solo album truly sounds like.
Freeman exclusively uses the music and lyrics of poet/songwriter Rod McKuen, an author often dismissed for his lack of sophistication and clichéd style. In fact, producer Ben Vaughn revealed that “Aaron…is a big fan of soft rock from the ‘70s.” McKuen’s pop songwriting is from an earlier era, with a Tin Pan Alley ’60s sensibility akin to Burt Bacharach. His theatrical flair seems especially fitting for Freeman, as on the lilting waltz of the title track. The versions here mostly stay within McKuen’s aesthetic, but they occasionally sound updated, as on “The World I Used to Know”. Throughout the album, McKuen’s songs meet some of Freeman’s Gene Ween quirks and oddities, matched with his youthful, joyous, and at times silly voice.
The opening track, “As I Love My Own”, is a good example of the album’s meeting of musical minds, featuring a sequencer behind a cheesy, descending melody, supporting the über-poppy vocal melody. The whole thing is reminiscent of the Moody Blues’ “Your Wildest Dreams”, but the wacky organ solo is straight off of Ween’s “Piss Up a Rope”. That’s not surprising, since Vaughn also produced Ween’s 12 Golden Country Greats.
In fact, many of the tracks have a country tinge, like “Doesn’t Anybody Know My Name” and “The Lovers”. On these songs, Freeman is at his best, singing from the heart as though he had written the song. “One By One” is a feel-good, banjo-led romp that would sound comfortable on a Ween record, with childish vocals providing the titular response. As a debut solo album, it’s odd that Freeman chose to go entirely with covers. This is a solid record, but nothing to dissuade interest in some Aaron Freeman originals.
Essential Tracks: “Marvelous Clouds”, “One by One”, “Doesn’t Anybody Know My Name”, “The Lovers”, and “The World I Used to Know”