The fact that Josh Tillman, aka Father John Misty, is a superb entertainer was already clear and settle a long time ago. You just need to watch any of his performances, read any of his interviews or check his twitter account to understand why. What ‘Pure Comedy’ has achieved is establishing Tillman as one of the greatest contemporary songwriters – if anyone out there doubts it after ‘Fear Fun’ and ‘I Love You, Honeybear’.
On ‘Pure Comedy’, Father John Misty leaves aside his love-songs catalogue – that won over so many hearts with ‘I Love You, Honeybear’ – and focuses his lyrical skills on bold critiques towards religion, social media, modern ways of entertainment and politics to name a few. It is a dramatic thematic shift that perfectly suits this American enfant terrible personality, and that despite its heavy message, it results surprisingly easy to listen. The Maryland singer has not
The Maryland-based singer has not been the first one tackling all these topics through music, but even if you get to ignore his lyrics, the orchestration and richness across the whole album are outstanding. Tillman himself was concerned about his musical risky move, as he sings in his biographical cut ‘Leaving LA’, “as they all jump ship, ‘I used to like this guy, this new shit really kinda makes me wanna die.” It has ended up being a successful move, a beautiful album on how doomed our society is. It sounds sarcastic, as much as Josh Tillman is.
‘Pure Comedy’ A-Side is probably the best out of the four. Opening with the title track, which we covered three month ago, Father John Misty makes clear that he is not afraid of speaking his mind, and offers a glance to what the listener will go across the album. It’s an hypocrite, selfish and double-standard society he is depicting here, and religion and politics will not be safe from his sharp lyrics. The excellent ‘Total Entertainment Forever’ follows the boldness and bravery of ‘Pure Comedy’ reflecting the threats of virtual reality and impersonation. His thoughts on ecocide and climate apocalypse are shown on ‘Things It Would Be Helpful To Know Before The Revolution’, one of the gems in the album that was not released as a single. This is Father John Misty’s idea on a dystopian future that might not be that far from a future reality. Closing the A-Side, the brilliant ‘Ballad of the Dying Man’ ironically talks about that narrow-minded man about to die who used to pour his opinions even when nobody asked for them. We all have one of those “dying man” around.
“The pretentious, ignorant voices that will go unchecked
The homophobes, hipsters, and 1%
The false feminists he’d managed to detect
Oh, who will critique them once he’s left?”
Along the following two sides, two more singles come across: the low-burning ‘Two Wildly Different Perspectives’ and the 13-minutes biographical chorus-less ‘Leaving LA’. But it is ‘The Memo’ – of which he shared a version one year ago – the most remarkable piece we can find in these two Sides. Any of its verses could be a wise statement that would make you reconsider what is happening around you and towards we are all heading now. Capitalism, commodification of culture, hypes, banality… all are stamped with Tillman’s satiric critique in this cynical sermon.
“And as the world is getting smalle, small things take up all your time
Narcissus would have had a field day if he could have got online
And friends, it’s not self-love that kills you
It’s when those who hate you are allowed
To sell you that you are a glorious shit”
It is the last side which offers a magnificent closing act for the album. ‘So I’m Growing Old On Magic Mountain’ – reference to Thomas Mann’s ‘The Magic Mountain’ novel – provides Tillman with an escape to the cruel and crumbling scenario previously described in the album. A desire of evade oneself from his reality, a “magic mountain” which provides shelter, eternal shelter, through imagination. The instrumental second half of the cut is totally mesmerizing, probably one of the most delightful music arrangements I’ve heard for months.
The album outro, ‘In Twenty Years or So’, also seems to try to play all the fears down. As if we shouldn’t worry about anything that Father John Misty has previously warned us. A nihilistic turn where apparently nothing really matters. It is a beautiful atmospheric orchestral piece where Tillman sings over and over “there’s nothing to fear” as if he was trying to persuade himself to believe that what he’s saying is true.
“The piano player’s playing ‘This Must Be The Place’
And it’s a miracle to be alive
One more time
There’s nothing to fear”
Father John Misty is calling on revolution, to start sorting out all the issues we all should be worried about. Or maybe he is just being a sarcastic entertainer and he does not really care about any of the above unpacked. It seems ironic to criticize the show business and capitalism from their first row, but it is also a clever way to approach it. What is proven here is that ‘Pure Comedy’ is sometimes challenging and sometimes just beautiful to listen, even thought the unsettling topics might disturb your comfortable day. We need more Josh Tillmans around.
Bella Union | 2017
Tracklist & Stream