Aaron West and The Roaring Twenties - We Don't Have Each Other
Record Label: Hopeless Records
Release Date: July 8, 2014
Songwriting is akin to storytelling. Fictional or not, every song should tell a story of some kind. So in this way, Dan Campbell of The Wonder Years is a tested and tried storyteller. His songs are the story of his life, a chronicle of his thoughts and his struggles. You know, about how he’s not sad anymore. And gosh dang it if he ain’t one of the best storytellers I’ve ever heard. Now he continues to prove his prowess under his solo project titled Aaron West and The Roaring Twenties with We Don’t Have Each Other, a concept album that follows the fictional character Aaron West and the worst year of his life.
“Our Apartment” starts the album off slow, with Campbell crooning over an acoustic guitar about how he wishes things were (in character, of course), before the song breaks into emotional folk-y goodness, banjo and all. And of course, lyrically, Campbell remains strong as ever, with heart-wrenching lines like “I found enough of your hairpins to build you a monument/A statue to loneliness, breathe it in, let it go.” Instantly, he’s able to make Aaron a character that feels real, and we understand his struggle. I haven’t been through a divorce before, but I know what it’s like to be lonely.
“Grapefruit” starts to flesh out Aaron’s backstory a little bit. SPOILER: someone died. And something else is implied. This song is one of the best in Campbell’s repertoire – damn that’s a good chorus – and is most certainly the best song on the record.
“St. Joe Keeps Us Safe” reveals directly that it’s Aaron’s father who has died. After his wife, Diane, leaves, he goes to visit his mother, all revealed in a beautiful song which sees Aaron and his mother trying to comfort each other in the midst of immense loss.
The rest of the album doesn’t quite reach the same peak musically as it does in the first three songs, but the story continues to advance and Aaron continues to struggle. “Divorce and the American South” paints a vivid and heart-breaking image of Aaron in a phone booth, lost in the South, leaving a desperate and sad voice message to Diane. We find out that, as you may have already guessed at this point, they lost the baby, and it affected him greatly, which led to their divorce.
Musically there’s a lot of interesting stuff going on. Soupy, with the aid of the talented Ace Enders producing and TWY member Mike Kennedy on drums, is able to blend pop-punk and acoustic folk in a way that creates a sound that fits Campbell’s voice and the story perfectly. It adds a dimension to the album that it just couldn’t do without.
The weakest song on the album is “Get Me Out of Here Alive,” which feels like filler at a point in the album where something should be changing in Aaron’s journey. In terms of story, it seems like that should be where act two ends and the third act begins. But instead it just draws act 2 on longer than it should.
“You Ain’t No Saint” is a fantastic penultimate song, and feels the most like Campbell in his normal state (while still maintaining the Aaron persona). However, it feels a little out of place in the context of the album closer “Carolina Coast”, which in itself is good, but also… slightly unsatisfying. The cathartic moment in which Aaron sees a beaten up old boat fighting the waves feels like it should’ve happened earlier, and leaves the close of the story and little more open-ended than I’d have liked. But I guess that’s a good thing. I’ve been on this journey with Aaron West; I’ve known his troubles and his fears. And now that it’s ending, I want more. This is a good sign that Soupy has truly crafted a character that feels as real as Dan Campbell, himself.
Something Soupy does extremely well is he allows the listener to feel exactly what he’s feeling on some level. After all, there is something oddly relatable about a line like “I’m sorry I don’t laugh at the right times.” Because it’s not about what that line literally means, it’s about the feeling it represents. This is an essential part of what makes Campbell a great songwriter, and why his songs and writing style work so well. The fact that he can continue to do that for a fictional character and a fictional world is all the more impressive. So, is We Don’t Have Each Other as good as, say, The Greatest Generation? I wouldn’t say so. But it’s still a fantastic album with as much depth and heart as anything Dan Campbell has done. Give it a whirl or two. Or ten.
P.S. Album title is perfect.
This review is a user submitted review from Stereocascade. You can see all of Stereocascade's submitted reviews here.
It's funny how people can have different opinions of songs and what is enjoyed. this reviewer seems to like the front half of the CD more then the backhalf. I'll say I love songs 6 to 10 overall more then 1 through 5. When I first heard the CD on youtube I was into The Thunderbird Inn so now when I start to listen I start with that song and now my favorite song on the CD is "Get Me Out of Here Alive" because that is right after it and I have listened to then the front half of the CD. I feel like GMOOHA I can picture being in his state of thoughts and where he is and what he can see and hear.