As the new Tim Minchin album I’ve just reviewed bounced an idea around in my head – that it might be the missing Whitlams record we were promised this year – came a reminder that chief Whitlam, Tim Freedman, was performing a show at the City Recital Hall in Sydney tonight (Wednesday November 25 if you’ve lost track of time).
That sounds like the universe sending a message doesn’t it? And Wind Back Wednesday is nothing if not something plugged into the subtle sounds of the universe. (Plugged in enough to know that there is a new Whitlams song, while we wait for an album, Ballad Of Bertie Kidd.
So, here’s a look at the last time an actual Whitlams studio album was spotted in the wild: the year, 2006; the prime minister, John Howard; the mood, mixed.
Little Cloud & The Apple’s Eye (Warner)
Full disclosure: I'm a sucker for a Whitlams ballad. There is something about their musical and emotional vulnerability jostling for space with a brittle carapace - that mix of openness and defensiveness - which 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 moments such 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.
Unlike the recent bloated double album by the Foo Fighters which had a loud and a soft disc, the division here is more a conceptual than musical construct.
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”. It's fair to say that Mr Freedman is 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 which 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.