After the release of his solo breakout I Love You, Honeybear, Josh Tillman faced a difficult decision — create another record with the same sound and risk repetition, or go out on a limb and risk losing his fans. Now that he has chosen the latter, Father John Misty is poised to rule over the indie world, releasing an album full of confrontational ballads.
In addition to producing solo albums as J. Tillman since 2004, Tillman also played drums briefly for Fleet Foxes. After he left the band in 2012, Tillman adopted his current moniker and persona Father John Misty, a man whose over-exuberant passion on stage paired with a fun-loving spirit, conscious lyrics and witty observations make for quite a show. His debut album Fear Fun missed its mark slightly, but I Love You, Honeybear attracted the fervent support of indie fans with its sappy pop sound and lovey dovey story lines. Now, with Pure Comedy, FJM turns over a new leaf, coaxing out satirical and ironic content to the forefront of his music.
Upon first listen, Pure Comedy was a letdown. It’s nowhere near as welcoming as its predecessor, featuring mainly piano ballads and solo acoustic songs that can run as long as 14 minutes in the case of the storytelling-epic “Leaving L.A.” It was a letdown to hear this instrumental de-evolution of FJM’s music — the entire album felt like one long Twitter rant, going on and on to the point where it might be considered self-parody.
However, after a few more listens, the record reveals a few merits. “Pure Comedy” is the obvious standout, combining the pop-feel of Misty’s previous successes with aggressive, two-pronged lyrics that attack both sides of the political spectrum. It’s the instrumentation makes this song go from enjoyable to memorable, but that key element is nowhere to be found for the rest of the record. “Total Entertainment Forever” comes close with its laugh-inducing lyrics, but for the rest of the project it is ballad after ballad for over an hour.
The worst part of Pure Comedy is its pretentious outlook. It was charming when mixed in with love songs and a few jokes. Now, it’s far too in-your-face. Tracks such as “When the God of Love Returns There’ll Be Hell To Pay,” take on sparse instrumentation to keep the attention of Misty’s lyrics, but the repetition between songs and the high-brow remarks make some songs unlistenable. In “There’ll Be Hell To Pay,” Misty sings, “Every monster has a code, One that steadies the shaking hand, And he’s determined to accrue more capital by whatever means he can,” making him sound like a self-proclaimed prophet lecturing a packed church on the dangers of greed.
Pure Comedy challenges FJM fans to wake up and see the true side of society hidden behind his schmaltzy pop tunes, a society that’s dark and brooding, often centered around selfishness and conflict. The buffer between Tillman’s morbid curiosities is what kept fans so engaged in his last record. He’s throwing strife upon an audience that already knows and feels his pains.
On his first two albums, Father John Misty walked the tightrope between playful and painful perfectly, writing songs that impressed sonically and lyrically. But now on his third he’s let his pseudonym get to his head, becoming a full-blown preacher to a crowd that doesn’t really want to listen.