Whitlams’ Clean Break
Sunday Herald Sun
by Paul Nassari
After a rest from his hectic lifestyle, a re-energised Tim Freedman and gang are back.
With an ambitious new double CD, Little Cloud/The Apple’s Eye, popular Australian group The Whitlams have returned with their first new material in four years.
Exhaustion and an unhealthy lifestyle led songwriter, singer, pianist and all-round main man Tim Freedman to recharge his batteries by leaving the country for a cleansing solo tour in New York.
The rest seems to have done him well, for critics and fans are already claiming this is The Whitlams’ most solid release since 1997’s Eternal Nightcap.
“I absented myself from the telephone and being in Australia,” Freedman explains, “and committed myself to working. As a result, I came back with three quarters of the material written.”
Importantly the infamously fussy Freedman is happy with this record.
“They are a much stronger batch of songs than on the last album, Torch The Moon. I think I was in a better head-space, healthier and allowed myself to take time off to write it as opposed to trying to fit it into a crazy lifestyle.”
The reflective narrative lyrics of Little Cloud make it appear as though the songwriter has enjoyed a thorough catharsis, but the man behind them reveals this isn’t the case.
“It sounds like I’ve been through a lot, doesn’t it?” he says. “But I haven’t, really. No more than the usual amount. My romantic life normally resembles the life cycle of a fly, so nothing’s changed there.”
“Between recording the last album and today, I’ve had two girlfriends, one of which gave me a lot of trouble and the other which I gave a lot of trouble.”
“Nothing too dramatic really, just the every day adventures of a boy trying to make his way through the world.”
There’s an upside to romantic troubles for artists as the pain can be transformed into grist for the mill if the spirit’s willing.
“I guess that is the case for a lot of people,” Freedman says. “In my case, maybe age has made me more philosophical – at least jaded. I don’t think it ever got that desolate this time around, I must admit. That’s not to say it hasn’t wormed it’s way into the lyrics, but not in such a way that you can’t see the funny side.”
“For instance, that line ‘Spent 12 hours drinking, slept with someone that looked like you’ from 12 Hours is so desolate, it’s a joke. And it’s meant to be. You are supposed to see the funny side of that and hopefully, if you are having a hard time of your own, get a giggle out of the ridiculousness of it all.”
This irony has been known to escape his audience, much to his chagrin.
“I get disappointed when I sing things like that and people don’t laugh. I’m not singing that sort of thing because I’m serious or that I’m trying to get people to slash their wrists, I assure you. It’s just an example of a torch song taken to the nth degree.”
Funnily enough, the comedy throw-away She’s Moving In, the song that sounds the most drawn from life, is a work of total fiction.
“That’s an example of taking a cute, funny idea and making a song about it. If you want the truth, I think I was listening to the Beatles’ song She’s Leaving Home and thought that, right at the moment around the corner, there was probably a bloke singingShe’s Moving In!”
His choice of Machine Translations’ J Walker as producer has been seen as an enigma in some quarters since his previous work and the grandoise style of The Whitlams seems to be an odd match.
“It’s true that this is a reaction to the last two records (1999’s Love This City and 2002’s Torch The Moon) which got a little bombastic in parts,” Freedman says. “I fully admit I went over the line with the amount of instrumentation on occasion – but that’s part of any artist’s growth.
“It’s been a combination of things: the fact that I wanted to react against the previous two records; that I did a fairly extensive solo tour to support the DVD and the fact that I wanted to use J Walker, who produces very subtle folk music, all combined to help me deliver a fairly understated record.”
Freedman can’t sing Walker’s praise enough.
“I love his records. I thought we needed to borrow from his sound to make the music approachable again. I was very pleased when he agreed to do it because I knew what I was getting.”
Oddly, the first single, I Was Alive, became the second most added track to radio on its week of release.
“It feels oddly like the planets have been aligned in my favour. I won’t curse it by getting too confident,” he says.
The song is an example of Freedman turning expectations on their head.
“That’s a slice of life, isn’t it? I had a great, short, tempestuous relationship, but instead of moaning about its end, I thought I’d say thanks for the wild ride. I came out the other side a littler battered and bruised, but was very glad to have been able to love again.”
Freedman can’t let that go without adding a sly barb.
“Also I wanted to annoy the girl when she heard it on the radio. I’m expecting an angry call any day now.”