In the midst of an interview about his acoustic solo project, Aaron West And The Roaring Twenties, The Wonder Years frontman Dan Campbell admitted that he was being forced outside his comfort zone. Playing and writing songs on the guitar is a fairly new venture for the man known to friends and fans as “Soupy”, but through patience and hard work, he’s managed to make it seem effortless on AWATRT’s debut, We Don’t Have Each Other. The statement struck me as sort of ironic, however, because it’s virtually impossible to find a moment in Campbell’s writing where he does seem completely comfortable.
With The Wonder Years, he thrived off of insecurity and nervousness. Even though the band’s three major full-length releases (let’s ignore the one with Cap’n Crunch on the cover for the time being) show obvious maturation and progression through what can be some of life’s most difficult stages, the anxiety and apprehension remain constant. It’s become sort of a trademark for Campbell, no matter what happens, he’ll never be able to completely silence his worrisome mind.
While this key element of Soupy’s style is most definitely present in the songs he’s released as Aaron West, fans of his other work will be able to tell that he’s definitely taken a different approach to songwriting for the project. In the past, his lyrics were accompanied by the upbeat, catchy instrumentation Wonder Years fans have come to know and love. On We Don’t Have Each Other, they’ve got no room to hide. Granted, it’s more than just a man and a guitar, but it’s apparent that each track was composed with the attitude of a solo artist. Campbell knew that no matter who else contributed to the LP, the songs were his and only his, and he had to take responsibility for them accordingly.
So, what exactly is different? Well, in my opinion, the new lyrical ground broken by Campbell on this record can all be summed up with one word: storytelling. Much of his past work was made up of firsthand accounts of different events in his life and how they made him feel, as Aaron West, he takes on broader concepts and narratives. As Campbell develops the character of West, an overly emotional Brooklyn native with serious relationship issues, he finds himself having to create another story that has nothing to do with his own, this time completely from scratch. Perhaps this is why he feels more uncomfortable with this particular project than he usually does – communicating experiences that you yourself have had is one thing, but trying to make your audience sympathize with someone completely made up is a much more daunting challenge.
Fortunately, Soupy rose to the occasion and delivered a convincing, at times haunting tale of heartbreak and loneliness. West isn’t the most virtuous guy in the world, he knows he’s had his fair share of screw ups, but his self-awareness and the conviction with which he professes the truth and strength of his feelings makes it hard for the listener not to wind up in his corner by the time the album comes to a close. While the ending may not be a happy one, it provides some closure to the story presented in the subsequent parts of the record without exactly slamming the door shut on the prospect of a sequel.
Musically, the LP feels somewhat nostalgic – maybe it’s the elements of Americana and folk music, or the frequently brought up themes of memories and past events, but a complete listen through feels somewhat like flipping through the pages of a photo album, a single track more akin to picking out one particular moment or time period. This sort of “memory lane” feeling to the instrumental side of the album really meshes well with the character of Aaron West, and the story as a whole. When instrumentation and lyrics collide, We Don’t Have Each Other really feels like a complete, cohesive package, and that sort of harmony between the two, in my opinion, is what plays the largest role in making this such a great record.
Yes, there are some things about this album that could be improved, but they’re so minute and unimportant when considered beside everything else about it that after several listen throughs, they don’t seem to matter that much at all. No, We Don’t Have Each Other isn’t perfect, and Aaron West And The Roaring Twenties might not be the best new artist to emerge from what’s turning out to be an amazing year for music, but who cares? They both represent a wonderfully talented artist putting his heart and soul into his work, and, at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.