His dark materials
After Pure Comedy’s stateof-humanity address, Josh Tillman has another go at removing the plank from his own eye. By Victoria Segal.
Father John Misty God’s Favorite Customer
EVEN A listener with a pause button can be exhausted by Josh Tillman: the on-stage rants, the controversial interviews, the wind-ups, the music. No wonder, then, that the complicated singer-songwriter also sounds a little tired on his fourth album as Father John Misty. 2015’s uxorious I Love You, Honeybear was an elaborate confection of self-loathing, self-regard and selfrevelation, a cake he decisively had and ate; last spring’s Pure Comedy widened its scope, human history filtered through his apocalyptic worldview. By comparison, God’s Favorite Customer seems almost subdued, the lurid sleeve cartoons of Pure Comedy replaced by a moody portrait of Tillman, his favourite subject of all. Inspired by a rough patch – living in a hotel, heartbreak, hedonism – these songs feel less slippery, free from garish lyrics about Taylor Swift (although Jason Isbell is namechecked) or triggers for Twitter rows about authenticity. There is, however, restraint; it’s lush, but not every line tries to spit out a diamond. “Put yourself in my shoes,” Tillman sings, or “I’m in over my head” – familiar, threadbare phrases, hard to hide behind. The Palace’s Judee Sill swell is a particularly delicate, lightheaded account of separation, housekeeping and room service no match for a home, while the title track falls into old habits: God a kind of barman, Tillman as “trouble”. When he does get flash – “pointless benders with reptilian strangers” on Please Don’t Die’s country billow – the wordplay jars. Yet God’s Favorite Customer isn’t merely a more boring Father John Misty record, despite some in-his-sleep AOR balladry. The Stooges-spite of Date Night seems like a blog-age update of Pavement’s Range Life, while the stormy drums of Hangout At The Gallows push towards the prog light. He plays his old self-referential games on Mr Tillman, a dialogue between an unravelling, paranoid singer and a concerned hotel receptionist over a bittersweet Elliott Smith roll. There’s more reflection on The Songwriter, where Tillman imagines swapping jobs with his partner. “Would you undress me repeatedly in public/To show how very noble and naked you could be?” he asks, over quiet piano, adding selfflagellation to the thought experiment. Over 10 songs, however, things soften – not with I Love You, Honeybear sentiment, but with a pragmatism closer to Pure Comedy’s bleak resignation. The lingering ELO embrace of Disappointing Diamonds Are The Rarest Of Them All uses perfectly unromantic imagery to suggest enduring love: “Like a carcass left out in the heat/This love is bursting out of me,” he sings. We’re Only People (And There’s Not Much Anyone Can Do About That), meanwhile, suggests that as you age, “company gets pretty thin” so “why not me, why not you, why not now?” It’s a very good question. After the bilious visions of Pure Comedy, God’s Favorite Customer can feel like running emotional repairs, a holding pattern, temporary accommodation. For an artist who is often
too much, however, it is just enough.
It’s hymn again: Father John Misty waits to be served.