Andrew Neil shouldn’t be an unfamiliar face to long time readers of Feedback. Just over a year ago I discussed his studio debut Merry Go Round with allusions to his first album Code Purple. The Virginian songwriter’s first two ventures were in depth explorations of the internal psychological struggle of mental illness and the exclusion he feels from others due to the stigma around it. But he’s come a long way from the psych ward he recorded Code Purple in and his third album, Freak demonstrates that.
Freak feels more like a modern record than Merry Go Round. The guitar tones feel a little more rounded and full than his last album as many of the same guitar tones are employed but with more maturity and expertise than previously. Neil’s arrangement has been expanded as piano finds its way onto a few tracks like “Rain” where it is exceptionally powerful. The panning feels more maturely implemented and the whole thing just comes together more like a record made in 2019 than a record made in 1999. Of course you can still hear grunge influences, but Neil is separating himself from the Chris Cornell wannabes that populate 90s nostalgia acts.
Although Neil’s exploration of self doubt and self discovery has waned in his lyrics, he continues to make powerful statements on his outcast status and the difficulty of isolation. On songs like “American Dream” and “Thirty-Two” Neil explores the struggle of this new phase of his life where he isn’t (as?) disabled by his illness but also still has to fight every day, just against new obstacles.
I don’t think I like Freak is the funny thing. It’s a much better made album than Merry Go Round and certainly much more mature than that or Code Purple, but it just doesn’t resonate with me. Some of the lyrics definitely do, “Goodbye teacher, goodbye teacher/I don’t need your control/goodbye preacher, goodbye preacher/I’ve already sold my soul” from “Kentucky Whiskey” is a lyric I wish I’d written. But there’s something about how it all comes together that doesn’t quite connect to me. It’s like it’s less than the sum of its parts.
Elizabeth von Teig is a musician and author living in Brighton, Massachusetts. Her expertise is classic rock, folk punk, and the blues.