Sebadoh – The Freed Man

The Freed Man

In the recent rash of reunion tours plaguing music these days there is at least one ray of light to come of the hatchet burial between Eric Gaffney and Lou Barlow. Last year the original Sebadoh lineup came together to finally reissue the seminal III album, complete with better sound, an extra disc of outtakes, and comprehensive liner notes including Jason Loewenstein’s input. If their recent tour left little to be desired, comfort comes in knowing that it better served its purpose in making sure III, and now their first album, The Freed Man, has been put back in print.

Both albums, as well as the output from the same late 80’s era Guided By Voices gave rise to the lo-fi movement, clearing the way for Pavement, Elliott Smith, The Mountain Goats, and countless others. If there’s anything to be learned from these recordings it’s that albums of this nature will not be made again. With the advent of ProTools, Garage Band, and the many other forms of affordable digital recording formats, broken hearted bedroom songsters can record and upload a song in a single afternoon.

Recording on boom boxes or 4 tracks bought from classified ads was never a preferred means, just the easiest and cheapest way to get the songs on tape. More often than not the hissing, barely audible sounds enhanced the songs but not intentionally. With that said it isn’t the quality of The Freed Man that makes it a difficult listen, it’s the quantity. The new edition of the album features 52 songs and runs over 70 minutes. That’s a hell of a long time to listen to any artist, regardless of their songwriting abilities or recording skills.

The Freed Man is what you would expect as a first outing for a band that’s been synonymous with heart-on-sleeve songs balanced out by sheer noise, chaos, and ridiculousness. Being recorded at various times and with various people makes for a less than coherent work and as most of these songs were written nearing the end of that troublesome time of Barlow’s in Dinosaur, Jr., that is to be expected. Barlow and Gaffney were still working out what would become their ying/yang relationship; Barlow providing the songs about wanting affection and acceptance, Gaffney singing about being stoned and god knows what else while screaming overtop distortion fueled 4 string acoustic guitars. But The Freed Man was necessary to get them to the greatness of III.

Even at 52 songs, many of them are great and completely honest in their self deprecating way. There are snippets warning the listener that each song is a rip-off of every other song Barlow has written and while that’s true, he’s only gotten better at writing that song over time. Such early “classics” such as “Healthy Sick” (covered by Bettie Serveert on their debut album), “Little Man,” and the great “Punch In The Nose” all come from this album. While Lou sings about how he should have sex with as many girls as possible, for the experience, it’s made all the more honest when paired against the hilarious “Lou Rap,” proclaiming him as a “white noise addict.” We’re all screwed up in that post-high school, early college era in the same way; some people just have different and more insightful and entertaining ways, to express it. “Healthy Sick” opens the album as well has his career, by laying the foundation of everything to come from the great songwriter.

Eric Gaffney actually seems rather subdued, compared to his contributions to later albums such as Bubble And Scrape. While he was still finding his role in what was at this time Barlow’s project, his input is enough to make it a better listen as opposed to all those even more poorly recorded Sentridoh & Winning Loser/Losing Loser collections. Songs of his such as “Moldy Bread” and “Cyster” have appeared in live sets and albums later on in an effort to revisit some of the overlooked material he had contributed.

The reissue would actually benefit from being split into 2 discs. Though this may have meant the addition of a few more songs, it would have been easier to digest. This isn’t a suggestion I would make about Daydream Nation or Alien Lanes because The Freed Man isn’t a ground breaking album and as a whole works best because it’s choppy and erratic. The reissue is a gift for all “total hardcore” Sebadoh fans who have either worn out their copies of Weed Forestin or relish opportunity to have many of these songs available on one edition. (Weed Forestin being pieced together from various sources, only a handful of Freed Man tracks appear on that collection.) For newcomers, it may very well prove influential to future home recorders but not an essential document. For us old farts reliving the good ol’ days it shows that there is some good to come out of reunions.