The buildup to Josh Tillman’s third album under the moniker Father John Misty, catapulted him from hipster status to internet irritant and a late night TV favourite. His commentary on the current state of American politics, both in song lyric and public rant, gave him a new found popularity. On his first two releases, Misty may have been just as satirical, but he provoked much fluffier topics, like love, sex and drug binges. When Tillman found himself heartbroken by the anointment of President Donald Trump from early on in the electoral race, he found that his already existent frustration on the political climate could no longer be concealed. He made this apparent during a rant at a summer festival which he used as a replacement for playing a full set of his hits. Next came the first few singles of his third album, Pure Comedy. The first single of the same name is a satirical exposé, not just of the political nature, but of our compliancy and our addiction to entertainment. “Total Entertainment Forever,” a track that debuted on Saturday Night Live, contains the infamous opening line, “Bedding Taylor Swift, every night inside the Oculus Rift,” a lyric that was the topic of many blogs the next week after.
Now that Father John Misty had caught the attention of pop culture, (many more people than the folk hipster cult following that had latched onto him through Fear Fun and I Love You, Honeybear), the release date of Pure Comedy was heavily anticipated by music blogs, talk shows and fans, new and old alike.
Pure Comedy is unlike anything we have heard from Josh Tillman. The album may have a similar musical sound; it is dominated by Misty’s smooth vocals and acoustic guitar. And while it may also share themes that can be found in “Bored in the USA,” or “Holy Shit,” Father John Misty is not the same rockstar loverboy on drugs that he was before. Instead, he sacrifices weirdo-sex stories and more structured verse-chorus formatting, for long songs and lyrical exposés that comment on everything that is wrong with how we choose to live our lives. It may contain the same satirical chagrin that comes with Tillman’s personality, but the tone is serious and often depressing. With songs like “Leaving LA,” a 13-minute stream of consciousness that rhymes, and “When the God of Love Returns There’ll Be Hell To Pay,” which damns both God and human nature, there is not a lot of light shining at the end of the tunnel.
In this sense, there is much to acclaim Tillman of. In deciding to communicate his true feelings on how we lead our lives, with politics, entertainment and religion, he is sparing no lyric aside to fit the mould of a pop song. You can hear more of a free verse dramatic reading set to a beautifully intricate score than you can a series of tunes that could stand alone as good, funny listens.
Pure Comedy is definitely much different from any other recent releases in popular music. It’s hard to complain about something being too different, when we’re constantly complaining about everything sounding the same. But I also must admit, there is a part of me that misses the filthy sarcasm, and pop hook’s Misty is known for juxtaposing in a great song. However brave this new formula may be, there is a still formula for Pure Comedy. The recipe goes something like this: take Plato’s Republic, some pages from Hobbes’ Leviathan and Chuck Palahniuk’s Invisible Monsters, throw it in a blender, and serve this Misty smoothie on a day when the world has all gone to shit. Perhaps election day. Pure Comedy serves up some very cliche political philosophies that most people only know of through watered down pop culture references. Either Tillman used these ideologies to help aid what he wanted to illuminate about human nature, that we’re all selfish animals, that we’re all trapped, ignorant in the dark (or Plato’s Cave), and that we buy into a consumerist culture, and he needs to get out of LA before he completely succumbs to it more than he already has! Or, Tillman is completely aware that his citations are over used philosophical references and mocks us even further for acclaiming his brilliance when he is in fact using shallow ideas we should already be tuned in to. Isn’t that the message, that we need to wake up?
On “The Memo,” one of the final songs on the album, an automated computer says lines like “Music is my life,” and “This guy really gets me,” things Misty knows that we all say to make ourselves sound hip, real, and intelligent. But what is so real about entertainment anyway? This is Misty’s big question to us on his album. If we’re willing to regard Pure Comedy as a satire of ourselves, there is a lot of merit to this creation, pop hooks aside. Otherwise, we’re best savouring Father John Misty classics like “Fun Times in Babylon,” or “Cheatau Lobby #4.”