Father John Misty

Pure Comedy

Written by: MIN on 30/05/2017 14:51:07

Chances are that you probably already have an opinion on Josh Tillman, aka. Father John Misty. I certainly have one. Indeed, it seems that everyone has one, and it’s rarely something in between love and hate — usually it’s one or the other. Whatever your opinion might be though, the guy sure has made a name of himself. From delivering critically acclaimed albums thrice in a row to putting on shows that see him rambling on like some Jim Morrison-character tripping on LSD come alive, he’s made a tendency of becoming so unpredictable that it’s almost — dare I say it? — predictable. But hold your horses and turn off that caps lock before I get a chance to explain myself, because I honestly think Tillman is pretty damn good. In fact, I wrote a really positive review of his last album, ”I Love You, Honeybear”, in 2015 and I even praised his live performance in Copenhagen last year. However, once you put on “Pure Comedy”, Father John Misty’s newest and third album, you get an overwhelming feeling that you already knew what was going to happen before you even started listening.

The album is political, narcissistic, ironic and introspective all at once — which is all fine, because Josh Tillman is a clever writer and lyricist, and his gorgeous, soulful crooning is the perfect outlet for those topics. He explains various tendencies he has and why he ended up like this, and takes jabs at our current society and the future he sees for it. The lengthy, thirteen-minute, chorus-less album-highlight, “Leaving LA”, finds Tillman covering most of the ground he seeks to explore. The song starts as a critique of Los Angeles (”These L.A. phonies and their bullshit bands // That sound like dollar signs and Amy Grant”) but in the very next line aims a punch at Tillman himself (”So reads the pull quote from my last cover piece // Entitled ‘The Oldest Man in Folk Rock Speaks’”). Through its duration, the song gets incredibly reflective by virtue of lines like “A little less human with each release // Closing the gap between the mask and me” and ”It’s like my father said before he croaked // ‘Son, you’re killing me’ and that’s all, folks”. Despite the fact that you are constantly overcome by a feeling that you know what Josh Tillman is going to do next, a relatability and sadness in his words wins you over nonetheless.

I remember the ruckus that erupted when Father John Misty released his song “Total Entertainment Tonight”: ”Bedding Taylor Swift every night inside the Oculus rift // After Mister and the Missus finish dinner and the dishes”. How dare he? Taylor Swift is an American treasure and no one sees her like that. As if. It’s a strangely fun, yet realistic view of an all-too-close, dystopian future, in which virtual reality suddenly might become so natural that even Tillman would be able to stand face-to-face with himself in some technological parallel universe — or maybe even worse: we might become subjects so fat, lazy and indifferent that we’d stay inside the virtual world until the day we died.

Obviously, Josh can’t stop talking about and criticizing religion either. In fact, “Pure Comedy” must be his opinion on the matter and any line you pick from the title-track will cover my claim: ”It’s like something that a madman would conceive!” Yet at the same time, Tillman seems to acknowledge the fact that there is a god — why else would he go on and on, complaining about him? In “When the God of Love Returns There’ll be Hell to Pay” he sings:

We’re the Earth’s most soulful predator // Try something less ambitious the next time you get bored // … And to make something out of nothing sounds like someone else I know

There’s a lot to digest through Father John Misty’s 74-minute long odyssey of an album. If you only focus on the lyrics, you’ll have a nice little book full of poems. A lengthy release is fine by me; the only question is whether the artist can carry it through or not. In the case of “Pure Comedy”, I honestly don’t think so. Lyrically, it’s constantly entertaining, as Tillman takes you on several different voyages, but musically, it’s lacking in terms of diversity. Sure, there are the spaced-out escapades of the title-track and the reverb-laden, cello-laced album-closer, “In Twenty Years or So” and the sudden horns on “Total Entertainment Tonight”. But most of the time, Tillman tries to satisfy us with nothing more than an acoustic guitar and an admittedly nice piano-score, making the 74 minutes drag on forever. Songs like the obnoxious country-ballad “Smoochie” and the overly long “So I’m Growing Old on Magic Mountain” could’ve easily been cut from the tracklist. And a shorter album (say, 50, maybe 60 minutes) would’ve made the highlights shine brighter while making the few duds less visible. Instead, every negative aspect throughout is emphasized on repeated listens due to the uninspiring soundtrack Father John Misty’s words are joined by.

Ultimately, “Pure Comedy” is a good, albeit bloated album in which I can definitely see the appeal, but a tighter structure and a little more adventurous songwriting could have helped it stretch the extra mile. Tillman ends up being somewhere between “The Boatman’s Call” (by Nick Cave) and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” (by Elton John) without reaching the intimacy of the first nor the thrills of the other. Fans of Tillman will probably eat it up, but the more withdrawn listener will find too much unnecessary nonsense throughout the record. Yet at the same time, I find it hard to really be upset when such deliciously narcissistic lines as ”I’ve got the world by the balls // Am I supposed to behave?” (in “Bigger Paper Bag”) keep popping up. Father John Misty knows that he's full of himself, whether he’s presenting one side or the other, and people love it. So why change? Despite the bloating, many songs have the quality that we’ve come to expect from him — I just don't personally think that any of them quite reach the brilliance of the previous album’s highlights.

Download: Pure Comedy, Total Entertainment Tonight, Leaving LA, A Bigger Paper Bag
For the fans of: Randy Newman, Elton John, Leonard Cohen, Fleet Foxes
Listen: Facebook

Release date 07.04.2017
Sub Pop

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