I honestly can’t remember who I saw the Whitlams opening for in 2000. I know it was the Center in the Square in Kitchener, so by process of elimination, they were probably opening for Blue Rodeo on their Days In Between tour.* I actually expected a country band, because I confused the Whitlams with the Wilkinsons. What I got, much to my delight, was an Australian piano-based pop rock band with witty lyrics and a couple absolutely unforgettable songs. I like piano rock: Ben Folds, or Elton John for example. You can see similarities with both in the Whitlams.
At that time the Whitlams were in Canada promoting Eternal Nightcap, essentially a compilation of selections from their Australian releases. Having never heard those albums, I don’t know if you would consider this a “best of” or not, but upon listening for the first time, I was clueless that these songs weren’t all from one album. They sound cohesive.
The opening track “No Aphrodisiac” showcases Tim Freedman on vocals and piano with a melancholy opener. One of the most impressive things about the Whitlams is their lyrical prowess. “There’s no aphrodisiac like loneliness,” sings Freedman. Ain’t it the truth? It’s “I Make Hamburgers” that has perhaps the wittiest words. “I make hamburgers, I get all the girls,” sings Freedman, and somehow I believe him in this amusing tale.
Jazz pervades “You Sound Like Louis Burdett” until the pure pop chorus. “All my friends are fuck-ups, but they’re fun to have around.” Eternal Nightcap is a diverse album, and the “Charlie” suite (three songs) has a quieter, more serious tone. I have wondered if these songs are at least partly based on the Whitlams’ late guitarist, Stevie Plunder. “You’re killing your soul with an audience looking on.” Plunder died of a suspected suicide. These are beautiful songs, but lyrically very heavy. Plunder himself sings “Following My Own Tracks”, a great rock tune that actually reminds me a lot of early Blue Rodeo — the Greg Keelor songs. Then there is some Beatles-y mellotron on “Melbourne”, a mid-tempo track that I remember them opening with at the Kitchener show.
With such a strong mixture of soft and rocking material, coupled with hard to forget melodies and skilled wordmanship, Eternal Nightcap (the Canadian version anyway) is a pretty easy CD to justify adding to your collection. Now, to be transparent and honest, I will say that I did own a copy of their next album Torch the Moon, given to me by a co-worker. I didn’t keep it because there was nothing on it that struck me as memorable like Eternal Nightcap. Whether or not this CD is all the Whitlams you need, I cannot say.
*Confirmed via the Wikipedias.