Review Summary: You can take what I know about Love and drown it in the sink...
Hello Mr. Tillman. Nice to finally meet you.
I am somewhat new to the band of merry idiots that follow Father John Misty’s music, only getting wind of him back last year upon the release of Pure Comedy, an album a hell of a lot of people hated, and an album an even larger amount of people were sorta lukewarm on. Sure it got mostly got positive reception, but look no further than my very review of that album to find people in the comments not picking up what Daddy Juan Milky was putting down. I don’t really begrudge anyone for that, mind you, the album was bleaker than a Lars Von Trier movie, reeked of indulgence, and was somewhat grueling to digest in its entirety because of just how negative Tillman’s view on the world and society was. But it was for these very reasons that I loved it, it felt cathartic to listen to, and I don’t think anyone will argue that Papa Joe Crusty isn’t a good musician or singer, his tongue-in-cheek songwriting is hit or miss with most people as well, but with me, it’s mostly just hits. What can I say, I’m a fan. Not sure whether or not that makes me a pretentious jackass or not, so take everything I say with a grain of salt.
For the first time, after listening to his music, I feel like I actually got a look into who this whackjob really is. Before he was an eclectic and often preachy (he does have ‘Father’ in his title, so it stands to reason) guy who sang about things not a lot of people sang about, and when he did tackle broad ideas, hit approach was so detached it felt like he thought himself omnipotent. This sort of personality is common in music, and singer-songwriters, along with rappers, I find, need a massive ego in order to consistently make good, or at the very least, interesting, music. Reverend Jim Mustang over here seemed to possess this ego, maybe not as overt as say, Kanye West, but it was more of the way in how he seemed to speak with such conviction and sharpness, mostly on Pure Comedy. I Love You Honeybear was a more personal album, but only because it dealt with his direct and often humorous experiences with love. Even then, the album felt more like an exploration of a concept than a person. On God’s Favorite Customer, we finally get a peak behind the curtain at the man behind all of this, with the sonic direction sounding more like Pure Comedy but the lyrical and emotional content more along the lines of Honeybear, a solid fusion of his two most significant works. The result is a guy who couldn’t sound more confused if he took an active effort to.
Ego projects like this are a double edged sword. Unless you ride the perfect median line, you either aren’t interesting enough to make a significant amount of music about (I may love Eminem’s earlier work, but I think after Revival his ideas and recurring problems are about as worn-out as Mr. Tillman’s wardrobe) or you end up disappearing up your own ass (I know the new Kanye record isn’t out yet, but I’ll bet money that’ll be a resounding example of my point here). So now we arrive at God’s Favorite Customer, a smaller, more direct album that makes up for what it lacks in scale with some heavy emotional punch and a hefty amount of dark humor.
We kick off with ‘Hangout at the Gallows’ which is, quite possibly, the best song Pastor Joe Merry has ever written. This song is literally the prototypical Josh Tillman song, dark humor, personal insight, vivid yet strange imagery, and a lush but still pointed instrumentation. The electronic flourishes from Honeybear show up more on this song, and in this album, the burned out synthesizers making an effective appearance on ‘Just Dumb Enough To Try’ which really does add to the song’s more somber tone. The actual sound and atmosphere of the album is reminiscent of his last work, just with more added flourish, but still just as enveloping. The strings are put to great use on the album as well, be they violins or a regular ol’ acoustic guitar, when the music swells, it really hits, and when everything quiets down to be a bit more down to earth on songs like ‘Date Night’ we get just the right musical approach.
Josh Tillman is a man who is clearly very tired of himself and the world he lives in. Not in the sense that he thinks he’s above it all, an inference you could easily make on Pure Comedy, but here we have a guy who sounds resigned to the fact that he’s an adult whose done growing and isn’t changing anymore, even though he wishes that wasn’t the case. He really does take himself to task here, like on the aforementioned Date Night, a song that sounds more like the half-formed thoughts of a cynical madman, he says things like, ‘I also wanna vanquish evil but my mojo is gone’ along with other weird little anecdotal perceptions of himself that are odd, selective, and shallow. The kinds of things you find running through your own mind. Even though Pure Comedy was an album that contained a lot of humor, it was mostly grouped among a lot of cynicism that probably made it feel tone deaf to some, so if you found it to be kind of dry, this album will do you fine because Josh’s self deprecation and judgemental narcissism is here in full-force, but with a layer of self-awareness that makes it feel like an actual human being is saying all this and not a sarcastic 40-something year old robot with a hangover.
He also does have an earnest side, devoid of his cheeky irony altogether, like on the blunt, hilarious, and oddly touching ‘Please Don’t Die’ which would’ve fit right in on Honeybear, this time with some country music additions that really coat the song in a more rustic feel, without sacrificing how ‘big’ his sound actually sounds and feels. ‘You’re all that I have so please don’t die’ never fails to be a lyric that makes me smile as well as warms my heart, cause you can tell this morally-compromised goofball really means it.
That’s what I mean when I say this album is by far his most personal. He doesn’t sound like a character on this album, he sounds like a guy, but doesn’t abandon his trademarks. Like most musicians, he’s just kind of a sad guy who doesn’t know how to figure out life so instead he writes music about it. He’s so far-removed from his typical self here, the lyric ‘Last night I wrote a poem, Man I must’ve been in the poem zone’ shows up on ‘The Palace’ which is just so obviously and stupidly not-poetic you know he just thought it would make for a funny joke. Humor like that is just ridiculous enough to make Mr. Tillman really stand out amongst his peers.
The actual topics on the album is just literally ‘stuff immediately affecting Josh Tillman’ so it’s limited in scope and not exactly focused, but neither is he. There are no bad or even disappointing songs here, but as a whole, the album just doesn’t have a very far reach, which is both the album’s greatest strength and greatest weakness. It’s certainly less one-note than Pure Comedy, but not as multifaceted. It’s a decidedly easier listen, which can either be a good or bad thing depending on how you enjoy the content. He’s certainly got some things to say, especially in the album’s final third, but it’s nothing hugely profound, it more feels like listening to someone have a personal breakthrough, or just someone recognizing their problems and going ‘oh well’. Ever the cynic.
As far as this all goes, God’s Favorite Customer is the most quintessential album of his discography. It contains every trope you’d expect from his music, and honestly, feels more like a self-titled first album rather than the product of a truly experienced musician, which is honestly kinda great in my opinion, I feel like this album cemented him as one of my favorite artists even though it isn’t even his best work. I’m not sure if this will grow on me even more or not, but as is, this is pretty much exactly what I wanted from Papa Smurf Trilby over here. It may be a case of ‘more of the same’ but sometimes, that goes a whole lot further than you may think. The title is very appropriate, as elaborated on the title track, his relationship with God comes across as more like an coldly cynical exchange, but at the end of the day, frigid as the exchange may be, you still get what you pay for.
And there’s not much we can do about that.