Listening to Marvelous Clouds, Aaron Freeman’s 2012 debut under his own name, fans might have felt that he was ignoring an elephant in his room—a drug-and-alcohol-related onstage flame-out that made viral headlines the year before. But Clouds, a deceptively chill Rod McKuen covers record, was just a warm-up for the artist once known as Gene Ween. In the opening minutes of FREEMAN, the self-titled debut from his new band, Freeman addresses addiction and its aftermath with the combination of merciless self-inventory and artful songcraft that earned Ween one of the most devoted fan bases in contemporary pop. This song, the unmistakably autobiographical “Covert Discretion,” is a quiet shocker. “Save your judgments for someone else,” Freeman sings. “Be grateful I saved me from myself.”
As bitter as it sounds, the track clears the air. FREEMAN represents a new beginning— Aaron Freeman’s first album of original material since disbanding Ween and getting sober—but it isn’t a record mired in its maker’s private struggles. It’s simply a collection of gorgeous, subtly offbeat songs—in other words, a continuation of the thread that runs through the entire Ween catalog. The lush psychedelic pop of “The English and Western Stallion”; the melancholy plea of “More Than the World”; the unflappable, Plastic Ono Band–esque blues-rock of “Gimmie One More”—these are songs that bear the unmistakable Aaron Freeman stamp.