Until now the world has been a relatively trouble-free place, at least trouble-free enough for Josh Tillman to be facetious about it. His alter-ego Father John Misty could go about making fun of the obscenities of domestic life, romance, consumerism, gluttonous fame, obsession with enjoyment and all that good stuff which can be instantaneously transmuted into bar-table critiques and tokens of superficial conscientiousness. In his opus I Love You, Honeybear, we followed Father John Misty as a messiah clad in a hippi robe with acrylic paint through bars where he wards off the lecherous lotharios from his wife’s perimeter, through domestic households where love is a just doing word and its product is nothing lesser to satan with his horns blunted and his pitchfork transformed into a hoe. However, through the haze, color, acid and well-disguised mordancy of uncharacteristic everyday life, Josh Tillman was flirting with a bigger idea and it flickered in songs such as “Bored in the U.S.A.” and “Holy Shit.” It is just that the situation was not grave enough to engender an all-out attack from Father John Misty’s side. He was content with playing the half-serious doomsday preacher and incognito messiah, dispensing wisdom to those who were willing enough to heed his music. In his latest revelation, though, the atmosphere seems to have changed.
Josh Tillman released a new song called “Pure Comedy” along with an avalanche of news about his next album, a 25-minute documentary about the making of that album and a manifesto regarding the pathos and ethos of that album. Nearing 2-year silence with occasional intrusion (“Real Love Baby”), Father John Misty is sorely missed in his artistic output and he does pay due diligence in his attempt to be back. In some sense, his return is bad news, because a messianic visit occurs, when things go south. Shedding his hilariously cynical skin, Father John Misty comes with a grim face and serious news. Some might not even recognize him without his ever-so-degrading attitude (trying to pinpoint a malappropriation of a word to point out that it is a “malapropism”), his lothario demeanor and his colorful depiction of culturally morose scenes.
“Pure Comedy” is a direct confrontation of its name and Misty’s attitude up to now, since the song reads more of a tragedy. Songs such as “Holy Shit” were more of detached satires, but “Pure Comedy” is a flier stuck to the door of every house in the neighbourhood. Its theme is dark, its vision is ominous and its sound is gloomy. I am not going to launch a critique of song’s appositeness with the recent developments in the world (Trump’s election, snap roll-back of environmental policies, trade agreements and all that). “Pure Comedy” does it for me and maybe in a bit of an insipid fashion compared with Misty’s rest of the work. I say “insipid,” but it is just a comparative adjective with his off-hand satire in his previous work. I have felt a reservation with this no-holds-barred approach in his criticism, but it has dissipated fast.
As a pure artistic product, “Pure Comedy” is more in line with I Love You, Honeybear’s piano-laden, somewhat grandiose and overarching instrumentation sound rather than more acoustically reserved, stripped-down sound of Fear Fun, which is more than welcome news. The fluctuation from drum-guitar-piano to sequences of mournful silence, “Pure Comedy” offers a voyage, as its video intended. More in the good news department is that it seems to wink at a very lush album with more-earnest-than-ever themes for Misty. Father John Misty sounds like he managed to get serious without spoiling his heritage and beauty of his music.