The Whitlams Crash Through

Music Australia Guide
by Ed Nimmervoll

The Whitlams’ Tim Freedman, one of Australia’s most talented songwriters, gets it right on the new album, Little Cloud and the Apple’s Eye.

Tim Freedman might be the most misunderstood person in Australian music. Mention The Whitlams’ singer’s name and people are quick to offer an opinion – often, however, it’s about him, not his music.

The Whitlams are a group, but it’s Freedman’s songs and personality that commands our attention. Ultimately, you need to go to a Whitlams’ performance to get the picture. Sitting behind his keyboards, chatting with the audience between songs, Freedman is like the guest who takes over the conversation at dinner, for better or worse. It can be intimading the first time, but the more you encounter him the more you like him.

Unfortunately many radio programmers find it hard to pigeonhole the Whitlams’ music. It doesn’t come from an obvious genre pool. The huge hit single, No Aphrodisiac, sneaked up on them. Now they’re waiting for another No Aphrodisiac. But there’s more to Freedman’s music than Mr. Lonely Heart.

Admittedly The Whitlams’ own records have muddied the waters. The follow-up to 1998 ARIA album of the year, Eternal Nightcap,Love This City was a sterile, studio-locked album. Then, in 2002, came the unfocussed group effort, Torch The Moon. The new album, Little Cloud and the Apple’s Eye, finally gets it right. Again, it’s all about Freedman.

There are 16 songs on Little Cloud, divided over two discs. Freedman wanted to separate the ‘Sydney’ songs from the ‘New York’ songs – a distinction made while writing the album. Eighteen months ago Freedman ‘escaped’ to New York and rented a lift. For the silence. For “the electricity in the dreams”.

Coming home after three months, Freedman found Australia about to re-elect John Howard: “It then became about the collective depression of all my friends. We didn’t understand our country any more. So in the background of these songs there’s mentions of The Year of the Rat, or the little cloud drifting over Sydney looking for someone with a bit of heart, but doesn’t find them.”

Despite the band’s name, Freedman isn’t trying to change anyone’s political persuasion. On Little Cloud and the Apple’s Eye he’s just expressing his life in song. Three quarters of it is autobiographical. “I never live life just to write a song. Life is so huge. Life is an ocean. To write a song I just put a bucket in the ocean. There are a million other buckets I could pull out.

“No one has ever been offended by anything I’ve written about them. I leave out the bit where she farts, and leave in the bit where she looks beautiful.”

In the end, we are able to recognise Freedman is one of Australia’s most talented performers and songwriters. There are moments on this new album where he’s up there with James Taylor in melody and sentimentality, as innovative as a Ben Folds. He’s a craftsman, heads above James Blunt or Pete Murray. And different. Too different?

The Whitlams Live: The Fans View
LOU GARDINER, 24, SYDNEY

My favourite Whitlams’ gig was at the St Mary’s Band Club in Sydney in June 2000. The support band Blue Rodeo, from Canada, came onstage during the encore wearing Tim Freedman masks and caused havoc. Ben Fink, The Whitlams’ guitarist at the time, was lifted up on one of the band member’s shoulders and continued playing.

ROZ BROWN, 35, LONDON (formerly Sydney)
The London show in October 2002 was one of my highlights (and I think Tim has said the same about that show). It was just after the Bali bombings, and 2000 Australian’s singing Buy Now Pay Later (Charlie No.2) at the top of their voices  – it just made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. I was waiting for the roof of the Shepherd’s Bush Empire to come off! It was probably then that I realised how far they had come from the band I used to see at the Sando.