Dan “Soupy” Campbell's concept album, We Don't Have Each Other, under the pseudonym Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties is something I'd been expecting for a while now. With the success of his prominent pop punk band, The Wonder Years, Soupy has begun to receive notice as a poignant, insightful songwriter. It was only a matter of time before he came out with a solo project to showcase his lyrical talent through a different approach. That approach turned out to be the creation of a fictional character, Aaron West, with We Don't Have Each Other as the recounting of Aaron's separation from his wife, the loss of his baby daughter and father, and his subsequent journey across America to find and heal himself.
The album opens with “Our Apartment,” which I personally think is the best song of the release. “Our Apartment” sets the mood of the album (sad as hell) and lays out the main conflict of the story (Aaron's wife, Dianne, has left him). The acoustic guitar, horns and banjo drive home the borderline Americana tone of the album: it's a simple story about a simple man with realistic, yet devastating, problems. Soupy's voice is characteristically melancholy – and suited to the subject. The second track, “Grapefruit,” is a little slower, and even more yearning than its predecessor. The chorus is hooky and vague enough to be relatable; it's a welcome follow to the crippling specificity of the verses, which outline the loss of Aaron and Dianne's baby.
I found “St. Joe Keeps Us Safe,” the third track on the album, to be actually difficult to listen to; the melody is grating and the song is bland, relying on a buildup near the end that comes across as melodramatic. The next song, “Divorce and the American South,” is a solid antidote to “St. Joe Keeps Us Safe.” Where “St. Joe Keeps Us Safe” is overblown, “Divorce and the American South” is understated. It makes you feel Aaron's pain with accessible, aching lines like, “Hey Dianne / I know I fucked up / It's just when we lost the baby, I kind of shut off.” “Divorce and the American South” is the last truly stellar song on the album.
We Don't Have Each Other is surely a fantastic album lyrically. Every song has at least one or two exceptionally poetic lines, but ultimately, the story doesn't go anywhere. We're left hanging at the end of “Carolina Coast,” the last song, with Aaron's self actualization unresolved. I would be content with an unresolved plot (after all, life doesn't always resolve) if “Carolina Coast” wasn't essentially the same song as the three that came before it. After “Divorce and the American South,” we get no new information about Aaron's predicament. “The Thunderbird Inn,” “Get Me Out of Here Alive” and “You Ain't No Saint” are all about Aaron's feelings of loss and loneliness. We see that he is unmoored, desperate and fleeing from his past, but these images come without any new revelations in the story. We Don't Have Each Other lays it all out on the table in the first five songs, and then leaves the last four floundering for subject material.
Of course, there are times when I want to listen to nine songs about loss and loneliness, regardless of their contribution to any particular story. Yet, even for this, the last four songs on We Don't Have Each Other fall short because, not only do they come across as one long song lyrically, but also musically. The soft, downplayed vocals on “Grapefruit” and “Divorce and the American South” are traded in for Soupy's signature voice-cracking, passionate vocal buildups; there is an impassioned buildup on every song past “Divorce and the American South” except for “Get Me Out of Here Alive.” While this vocal style is perfect for The Wonder Years, it sounds out of place on We Don't Have Each Other. The unique instrumentation and subtle harmonies that characterized “Our Apartment” are largely absent from the rest of the album, besides the odd harmonica here and there.
When I first sat down to listen to We Don't Have Each Other, I was excited; The Wonder Years are one of my favourite bands and I've always been a fan of Soupy's lyrics. By the time the album was over, however, I was disappointed. While there are three songs on We Don't Have Each Other that deliver really, really well, the rest of the album is unremarkable. The lyrics excel, but the music suffers. The project isn't distinct enough from Soupy's body of work with The Wonder Years and gives the listener the impression that the songwriter can only really write one type of song. I don't necessarily think that's true, but the lack of melodic diversity certainly makes it appear that way. When all is said and done, We Don't Have Each Other comes off more like a collection of The Greatest Generation B-sides than anything else.