Father John Misty – God’s Favorite Customer
Father John Misty's new album is a surprise – a return to warmth and sincerity after a 2017 being chilled in the cold cynical wind
When Josh Tillman, otherwise known by his bombastic stage name Father John Misty, released Leaving LA, the 13-minute folk tale-cum-rant backed only by lightly plucked acoustic guitar on 2017's Pure Comedy, it looked like we'd reached peak FJM. But barely a year later came the first single from his quickly turned around new album, his fourth under the FJM moniker, God's Favorite Customer, and it likely had the worst of his haters swiping frantically through their Twitter app. Mr. Tillman was at once self-aware and satirical, but likely incredibly annoying for those who've come to detest the FJM brand of instantly memorable, sometimes reaction-baiting, lyrics. Even for his most die-hard fans it was a bit much, even if not a deal breaker. It was the FJM snake eating itself, an adopted character that was a send up and a parody, becoming a parody of itself in a song.
What a surprise it is then to hear Tillman's new record approach the warmth and fragility that he pitched so perfectly on 2015's I Love You, Honeybear and almost leave behind some of the cynicism that hung heavy over Pure Comedy's weighty tracklist. For many, the wit with which he tore apart his subjects last year was a marvel, but the stubborn self-indulgence of the aforementioned Leaving LA, and The Memo left behind a chilly air that even his most beautiful melodies couldn't stoke.
Allegedly recorded off the back of an unelaborated personal crisis, God's Favorite Customer is simpler and more to the point. The instrumentation is familiarly traditional, filled with golden horns and more than a touch of his showmanship. Date Night is one of the album's catchiest numbers, wrapped as a bluesy, piano-led honky tonk.
But it's Tillman's words that everyone hangs on. And so it's another shock that, while he has wisdom to spare, it's the sound of his voice rather than the content that immediately grabs. Tillman is engaging his falsetto here like never before, on opener Hangout at the Gallows and the incredibly succinct and wondrous Disappointing Diamonds Are the Rarest of Them All. If Mr. Tillman is the pinnacle of the FJM persona, then Disappointing Diamonds is the pinnacle of his soul. It's laugh out loud funny, hopelessly unromantic and yet touching at the same time; Tillman is collapsing well-trodden similes on their head – 'Like an oil tanker tipped at sea, this love's contaminated me / Like a constant twicthing in my eye, this love of ours will never die' – and delivering lines that should sound completely alien in a song like this, but they are balanced intelligently in the same way that the song's 'love is great, but there's more to life than a happy ending' subject matter provides a counterweight to the fifteen love heart emojis communication of I Love You, Honeybear.
What's actually happened to cause this rethink is unclear, but on the heartbreaking The Songwriter – where Tillman swaps places with his muse to lament how he has used her in his art – it's obvious that that love is still burning bright, just with more understanding of how it works and how his evocation of it in his music can affect it.
A recent Stereogum article discussed how Tillman had gone conspicuously quiet, while another enfant terrible (supposedly) releasing an album on 1 June stole headlines for the worst reasons, and how that had let Tillman, his fans and his detractors breathe. It seems to be an accurate observation as God's Favorite Customer showcases Tillman at his most levelled: sly-tongued and biting, emotional and soulful, articulating life's most complex feelings in a way we can all understand.
Listen to: Hangout at the Gallows, Disappointing Diamonds Are the Rarest of Them All, The Songwriter