Written by Fenn Idle
In an Instagram video announcing the release of The Older I Get The Funnier I Was, Whitmer Thomas says that the album contains “a lot of embarrassing stuff.” “If I feel like that, it usually means I’m on the right track,” he justifies. True to his word, The Older I Get is filled with painfully earnest details about his life. The lyrics feel unvarnished, like reading someone’s diary, but his radical honesty draws you into his world. Even the title has a personal backstory, inspired by a ‘The Older I Get, The Better I Was’ sticker that his mom had on her guitar. He recalls her reading out the sticker to an audience and getting a laugh, an anecdote that feels almost like his Batman origin story as an artist and comedian.
In “Everything That Feels Good Is Bad,” Thomas bemoans his lack of impulse control. He admits to liking “smelling gasoline and getting burnt in the summer” over a mellow instrumental before realising in the chorus that too much of a good thing can be bad. The song also reveals him as his own greatest critic when it comes to social situations. “Remind someone that you meet that you met them before / Keep giving them context until they just fake that they remember” is the kind of line that rings true for anyone who’s ever overcompensated socially within the moment only to regret it later. The octave doubling and layered vocals on the final chorus, alongside the glitchy synth textures courtesy of producer Melina Duterte, help elevate this track into an atmospheric stand-out.
Thomas reminisces about an ex on “Pinwheel,” describing the two of them as “kids in our underwear with Myspace hair” before weaving an impressionistic portrait of their changing relationship across the years. He describes specific moments from their shared history in a Linklater-esque narrative that traverses time and geography while touching on addiction and the volatility of young love. The lo-fi production emphasises the heart-on-sleeve storytelling, while a verse from the perspective of his ex (courtesy of Al Menne) imagining an alternate future for the couple provides a welcome contrast with pizzicati strings and lush synth textures mimicking the dream-like quality of the lyrics. The song ends on a note of quiet maturity, with the two former lovers reconnecting at one of his shows (“She brought everyone she knows”) as adults with separate lives.
Lockdown jam “Rigamarole” finds Thomas feeling trapped by the monotony of everyday routine. The song commences with an incisive one-two punch about online boredom (“Profound caption, thirst trap malaise / No satisfaction online these days”) while in the chorus, he “can’t tell if [he’s] depressed cos so is everyone else.” The song has an upbeat goofy vibe, with Thomas listing the little things that help him get through the day (exchanging memes with friends, cleaning an already clean kitchen counter). However, his pleas to lose control and for someone to “spike his punch bowl” in the final chorus take on a darker meaning when put in the context of a family history of addiction. “You can’t fight the rigamarole,” he repeats as his voice ascends to a desperate yell before the song suddenly stops.
“Cooler When I’m Sick” begins with a short snippet of dialogue between Thomas and his comedic other-half Clay Tatum, showcasing their so-dumb-it’s-funny comedic sensibility before launching into an anthemic mission statement. “I will try very hard” is a recurring refrain reflected in the massive instrumental backing. Thomas has professed his love for comedian Jim Carrey on multiple occasions, and one can see how he might relate to Carrey’s try-very-hard energy. The line “When I play with kids / I often commit / Too hard to the bit and freak them the fuck out” could be a description of the opening scene of Liar Liar. Thomas tries to trace his “desperation for approval masked as a willingness to entertain” to a phase in childhood when he “talked like Tom Green for one entire year while [his] parents were in rehab.” “Cooler When I’m Sick” showcases some of Thomas’ best instincts as a comedian, including funny self-deprecation and a perfect impression of Michael Caine’s “Some men want to watch the world burn” speech from The Dark Knight.
The Batman references continue in the opening lines of “South Florida” as Thomas waxes nostalgic about a childhood spent “Drawing the Bat signal with a mechanical pencil / Acting like we were doing heroin / Turning it into a needle”: a pencil usage almost as bleak as the Joker’s very own. Reversed instruments swirl around a perpetual I-IV progression while he sings to his dad about reuniting with him as an adolescent. Thomas paints an idyllic picture of life in South Florida; mangoes falling from trees, a bathroom with “foreign shampoos,” and “perving out” to Maxim. He portrays his dad as a former addict trying to make up for the time he lost: a fact that Thomas seems to have been aware of even as a youth, intentionally slouching to make himself appear younger. The second half of the song is presented from his father’s perspective and sung with an affecting gruffness by Dan Reeder. On paper, it’s an interesting choice to do a duet with a musician who plays your father, but Reeder’s performance rings with a convincing verisimilitude that will have listeners Googling to make sure that he isn’t Thomas’ actual dad. With its specific storytelling and slow build instrumental, “South Florida” packs an emotional wallop. It’s difficult to listen to without tearing up at the redemptive story and the reminder that one’s past need not dictate one’s future.
Once we get to the album closer, it feels like we have experienced a good chunk of Thomas’ life with him. It’s only fitting that he takes us back to his hometown. “Bushwhacked” is a guided tour of Gulf Shores, Alabama, complete with anthropological observations like “Middle-aged mothers stumbling drinking bush-whackers on the shore” while Thomas wonders aloud, “I never had a home here / Why do I want one anymore?” He saves the album title for the last stanza: “The older that I get / The funnier that I was / Wish I could’ve known me then / We could’ve had so much fun.” The words conjure a complex mix of empathy and regret, the feeling of looking at an old photo of yourself, while the instrumental builds until the end, reminiscent of the excellent album closer on producer Jay Som’s Everybody Works.
It’s hard to tell if Thomas believes that he was funnier before or if it’s a self-aware acknowledgement of his tendency to romanticise the past but listening to The Older I Get, it’s clear that he’s still plenty funny. While the musical choices veer towards conventional harmony and simple chord progressions, it isn’t a detractor. Tasteful production choices always serve the lyrics, while a mix of friends and local indie musicians provide various instrumental colours, elevating funny and honest songs. Listening to the intros and outros to each song, one gets a sense of Thomas’ life in L.A. surrounded by affectionate, goofy friends who quote the “apparently” kid and call bugs “critters.” He might not have found the home he wanted in Alabama, but the sense of fun and joyful collaboration that permeates The Older I Get makes one think that home was right in front of him all along.
Score: 8 Pollenate Me!
Fenn Idle is a musician from Sydney who makes bedroom pop under the name Fenn is cool. He has a degree in composition and was shortlisted for the Sydney Morning Herald Young Writer Competition in 2012.