Father John Misty – Pure Comedy

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Pure Comedy features some of Father John Misty's best songs. But, as an album, it's a tough slog.

'Some 10-verse chorus-less diatribe plays as they all jump ship, 
'I used to like this guy. This new shit really kinda makes me wanna die"'

So Josh Tillman sings in the longwinded personal narrative of ‘Leaving LA’. He’s singing about himself, which is something he does really, really well. But it’s not a common thread in Pure Comedy, his third album as Father John Misty.

Father John Misty is the perfect rock star for today’s heavily editorialised world.

Father John Misty is the perfect rock star for today’s heavily editorialised world. He’s erudite, clever, bitingly cynical and opinionated, like so many of the social commentators and think piece churners we read – or hate-read – every day.

His songs are barbs, sometimes shot at himself, sometimes at other sectors of society that seem ripe for a takedown.

There’s every chance you’ll find your own behaviours in the firing line here and, if you don’t take it too personally, it’s hugely entertaining.

Of course, people will take it seriously. And they will get offended. And they’ll rail against the hypocrisy of this pretentious auteur. They’ll deride his attention seeking internet stunts and question the credibility of his viewpoints.

Which is, of course, the point. Tillman thrives on provocation. Clichéd as it may sound, it’s art. And as Tillman becomes more popular, he will only become more derided. Which will give him more fuel to lash out.

He takes wild, broad swings on the opening title track. Gender roles, the political system, the health dangers foisted upon us by big business…

‘Total Entertainment Forever’ opens with the provocative line about sleeping with Taylor Swift in Virtual Reality as Tillman tells us that technological progression makes us emotionally disconnected. 

In ‘Ballad Of The Dying Man’ he shoots at the heart of the self-important modern armchair critic. 

 

The songs of Pure Comedy are deftly constructed, as expected. Some of them arguably Tillman’s finest yet. And while ‘humankind is deeply flawed’ is a depressing theme for such a hefty set of songs, the way Tillman sticks to the theme is admirable.

But there are drawbacks that give us reason to believe this album is not an improvement of 2014’s brilliant I Love You, Honeybear.

The ‘makes me wanna die’ lyric is key. It feels like this is Tillman bracing himself for the inevitable criticism that will be laid upon him. Because, beautiful as the music is on Pure Comedy, it’s not particularly adventurous. It’s pretty much 75 minutes of sombre piano-pop balladry.

It’s really, really good. But it a slog to get through in one sitting. At times it’s too indulgent, at times you lose track of what the hell he’s saying. At times you wonder why you are listening to this man tell you all about what’s wrong with the world.

And then, as it all ends, he has the gall to tell us ‘There’s nothing to fear’. Is that a cop out? Is it tongue in cheek? Did he just not know how to finish?

While Father John Misty is a perfect rock star for our time, this is not the perfect album for the short attention spans of the modern consumer. If you’ve got the patience, you’ll revel in this ambitious work. But it‘ll test more people than it satisfies.

The mammoth crescendos that stirred us on his past album are gone. The cheeky, but lustful proclamations of ‘Chateau Lobby #4’ have given way to the cynical ranting of ‘Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution’.

Pure Comedy might have some of his best songs yet, but it’s hard to argue that it’s Father John Misty’s best album. 

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