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Father John Misty
The newly released third album from Father John Misty is not good. But in a way, the fault for this is ours, not his. We, the fans of this first two records, have indulged his shtick thus far, and the result is the most Father John Misty Father John Misty album yet. As it turns out, this is not a positive.
Pure Comedy opens with the titular slow burning piano-led almost-balled that serves as a good primer for everything else that is going to follow: Over an hour of the same song (arranged slightly differently) thirteen times. ‘Pure Comedy’ sees Misty in ultimate ironic mode, crooning about the depressing reality of humanity. Isn’t life a big joke, he seems to be saying. Or maybe it’s that the joke that is life is actually not funny at all. That might be the point, since the album is mostly devoid of the humour that was such an essential part of the previous two Misty albums.
Whereas those LPs had an element of the self-depreciating, here the attempts at humour are over run with aloof irony. Whereas the figure of Father John Misty was partly the victim of his own scorn on the likes of ‘Only Son of Ladies Man’ or ‘Well, You Can Do It Without Me’ from Fear Fun, ‘Pure Comedy’ is the sound of an uber-ironic hipster sitting in a corner criticising everything less cynically self-aware than themselves, which, of course, encompasses absolutely everything. On ‘Pure Comedy’ Joshua Tillman has set his alter ego above the joke. Really, it’s our fault for encouraging him.
On ‘Total Entertainment Forever’ Misty sings of a future where people spend their time “Bedding Taylor Swift/ Every night inside the Oculus Rift”. Whereas Misty once came across as the mawkish ladies-man that was fun to listen to because he never really took himself too seriously, ‘Pure Comedy’ has one too many moments where he just comes across as kind of a jerk. The fact that the instrumentals throughout are content to fade into the background rather than lead the way with a properly captivating tune only serves to emphasise the lyrical content. This is of course the point. In a way, he’s always been heading this way. The lyrics have always been indulgent, they just had more of a good song to hide within before.
The album reaches peak indulgence on ‘Leaving LA’ a thirteen-minute stream of complaint in Misty’s distinctive velvety run-on lyrics, delivered over an orchestral backdrop so minimal that at times it barely seems there – the listener is stuck alone with Misty as pours his soul out in enough verses to make even the most ardent fan question why they ever paid attention to this guy.
At one point, he admonishes himself as “Another white guy in 2017/ who takes himself so goddamn seriously”, which may seem like a little slip of awareness, were it not within more than ten minutes of meandering self-analyses that still manages to aim its scorn at other people – it’s always their fault, it seems, never Misty’s.
There aren’t many good moments, but when they do show up, it’s a merciful relief. ‘So I’m Growing Old On Magic Mountain’ is a surprisingly authentic folksy lament that manages to drop the cynicism and ironic aloofness for something more honest. The track manages to elevate itself musically too, by dropping a light dusting of distorted synths over its laconic steel guitar. Had the rest of the album echoed this one’s continuation of the better side of Father John Misty, the record would have been a very different one.
It’s possible that Pure Comedy is Tillman taking the Father John Misty concept to previously unreached conceptual heights. The seeming lack of humour and awareness, the utterly self-indulgent nature of the record’s consumption of the listener’s time without ever delivering on the promise of a single properly good tune, could all be one big high-concept joke. Tillman is probably right now laughing his ass of at how clever he is. And we the fans can too of course. We don’t even really need to listen to the album more than once or twice to do so. The last thing he needs is more encouragement.