Listen Up: album of the week
Tim Freedman is one of those songwriters who conjures mini-movies in your head with his deft and beautifully crafted narratives. The mental cinema evoked by Freedman and his songwriting collaborators on Little Cloud is the most vivid and fully realised of his career.
The two discs document a three-month songwriting sojourn in New York (subtitled Apple’s Eye) and his return to Sydney, where the perspective afforded by taking time out from home provoked eight unexpected tunes (Little Cloud).
Freedman’s rich, conversational voice and signature piano are front and centre on these songs, not to take anything away from the performances of his faithful band memebers.
He has stretched his vocal performance in its emotional range – witness Fondness Makes The Heart Grow Absent, Second Bestand Tonight – which is in part due to the vulnerability and melancholy which permeates the tunes. As with any musical document which stems from taking oneself out of the comfort zone, there is also a pervailing theme of yearning.
But it’s not all heart music. There are rockin’ tunes (the single I Was Alive), countrified campfire laments (Fancy Lover) and sexy bar-room honky tonk (Stay With Me).
And don’t be scared by the double album concept – the combination listening experience will take less than an hour of your day.
Tim Freedman and his cohorts – including the eminently talented producer J. Walker of Machine Translations – have produced that rare beast of an album which is unlike anything out there and refreshingly – rather than indulgently – so.
SYDNEY MORNING HERALD, 17th March 2006
Emotional vulnerability glows through the new Whitlams album.
Full disclosure: I’m a sucker for a Whitlams ballad. There is something about their musical and emotional vulnerability jostling for space with a hard shell – a mix of openness and defensiveness – that appeals. And across this double album, produced with an intuitive and sensitive hand by J.Walker, there are some of the best ballads the Sydney band has recorded.
Yes, there are cat-house shanties ( She’s Moving In), ’70s rockers ( I Was Alive) and galloping romps ( Year of the Rat). And they’re consistently good in a consistently satisfying album.
But the real depth charges come via such moments as the empty-room piano of Keep the Light On and the In the Wee Small Hours-like torch of Second Best (“don’t you hesitate to call me, when only second-best will do”) or the wry regret of 12 Hours and the barbed frankness and angelic backing vocals of Fondness Makes the Heart Grow Absent.
Now, while it is true that this is a double album – prepare thy slings and arrows, sports fans – it is, in fact, no longer than your average modern album at 54 minutes, its 16 songs split evenly.
One disc, Little Cloud, deals with chief Whitlam Tim Freedman returning to Australia after an extended break in New York as the country is going not so much to the dogs as to the rat, the Prime Minister allegedly but famously described by one of his own colleagues as “that lying rodent”. Freedman is also not a fan.
The songs on the other disc, The Apple’s Eye, are about living in New York and missing (or wondering if you should be missing) home and love. Here, the wistfulness and half-regretted reach for intimacy that peppers Little Cloud becomes all pervasive, spinning an already thoughtful record into something quite complex and provoking.
Thematically, you probably should listen to the “second disc”, The Apple’s Eye, first, but emotionally it works best beginning with the ire and pungency of Little Cloud (the daytime disc) and then easing into the wine-assisted night with the reflection of The Apple’s Eye. Either way you win.
ZOO WEEKLY ***** (five stars)
It’s been a long time since The Whitlams have been on the radio, but they’re back. And frontman, TIm Freedman, is taking the band back to its roots. Little Cloud sees the return of their trademark piano and vocal-based storytelling style. “The track I Was Alive is about having trouble with girls again,” says Freedman. “It’s a bar-room stomp with honkytonk piano. We’re going back to the real old-fashioned Whitlams.” Hopefully, a return to their old-school style will see them back at the top of the Aussie charts. They’re spent too long in this country’s musical abyss.
Best track: Been Away Too Long
THE ADELAIDE ADVERTISER, 23rd March 2006 ***** (five stars)
Tim Freedman is a lyrical genius. Fans already know this. For those who aren’t convinced, just steal a listen to the Whitlams’ latest offering, Little Cloud, and you will be.
Presented as a double CD set, the first chronicling Freedman’s love affair with Sydney and the second an introspective mix reflecting on his time in New York, Little Cloud is certainly a return to the Whitlams of old. Gone are the over-produced sounds of previous albums Torch the Moon and Love This City. In their place is a collection of tracks which allow the piano and Freedman’s tortured soul to shine.
This time round, they’re discreetly political, almost as if it’s a private joke between Freedman and seasoned Whitlams fans.
And the move to geographically split the content lends a distinctive tone to each collection.
The mix is there too – it’s hard to resist the catchy beats of I Was Alive and Stay With Me, but there’s also much to be found in the mournful balladry of Keep the Light On, The Curse Stops Here.
Every song seems to reveal just a little bit more of the mysterious Mr Freedman, a portion small enough that you end up having more questions than answers – and really, that’s the way it’s supposed to be.
THE BUZZ, April 2006 **** (four stars)
It’s been four years since The Whitlams’ last musical outing Torch The Moon and eight years since The Whitlams were as many have said on top of their game, their standards slipping with each release since Eternal Nightcap. Now The Whitlams are back to set the charts ablaze and finally back at their creative best with their new double CD Little Cloud.
Some have already accused the sixth album as being in the same vein as their hypnotic 1997 independent album Eternal Nightcap. For me, Little Cloud is indeed quite similar but The Whitlams have since matured and have expanded lyrically.
The two CDs ‘Little Cloud’ (the Sydney songs) and Apple’s Eye (New York reminiscence), show they have emotionally matured with the soft melodies and less jumpy piano crazed moments from previous albums.
Little Cloud creates an intoxicating, bittersweet listening experience that manages to maintain the slightly offbeat views of the world we’ve come to expect from Tim and the boys. Highlights include the boogie swinger I Was Alive, the peppy swining jazz style of Year of the Rat, the bittersweet Fondness Makes The Heart Grow Absent, the slow burning Second Best and the extremely moving closer The Curse Stops Here, a fitting tribute to the deceased guitarist Stevie Plunder. All in all an easy listening album that doesn’t compromise on The Whitlams’ poetic leanings or bitter undertones that fans have come to love. It’s no Eternal Nightcap as some have hailed but it’s far better than the musical flab of Torch The Moon, but hailing the return to the lyrical and emotional genius of The Whitlams.