Father John Misty Addresses the Current State of Humanity on ‘Pure Comedy’
Beginning his career in popular music as the drummer of the beloved indie-folk group Fleet Foxes, Josh Tillman’s ascension into superstardom as his egocentric counterpart, Father John Misty, started in 2012 and has seemingly hit a turning point. Effectively trading the beautiful introspection that defined his massive sophomore album, “I Love You, Honeybear” for a critical and more far-reaching worldview, his third record under this moniker, “Pure Comedy,” may just become FJM’s magnum opus. A cynical take on the laughable, even reprehensible aspects of the human condition, “Pure Comedy” is not meant for the faint of heart. Hitting just over 74 minutes, the record’s substantial run time gives Tillman the necessary time and space to tackle life’s big questions with his unique and nuanced wizardry. Equal parts serious and satirical, FJM is in no way taking the easy way out; the thirteen tracks on “Pure Comedy” are expertly aimed at worthy targets.
Not the typical existential crisis most artists choose to indulge in, FJM is not so much concerned with the internal “why am I here?” / “What is my purpose?” questions, but more so with the “How did we f***ing get here?” aspect of the conversation. Dismissing the idea of God out of the gates on the album’s title track, “Pure Comedy” immediately feels like the soundtrack to a Broadway play about the consequences of modern human foolishness and we are definitely in for the ride. A blend of lushly-composed orchestral backings reminiscent of late 1960’s/70’s experimental opulence (a la “Sgt. Pepper’s”) is finished off with a witty, relevant and scathing lyrical force that only FJM can deliver with such potency. Painting a picture of unmatched (yet realistic) depravity in our modern times, Tillman still manages to make this oeuvre nothing short of beguiling. From open to close, the melodies are arresting even if the messages held within are anything but comforting. A critique of human behavior on the whole, FJM proclaims lines like “They get terribly upset / when you question their sacred texts / Written by woman-hating epileptics.” Just like that, you are left not knowing whether to laugh or cry, and that’s the point.
Nothing and no one is left out of Tillman’s line of fire, not even Tillman himself. The singer uses the thirteen minutes of “Leaving L.A.” as a chance to atone for his sins on and off the stage. Organized religion becomes the second casualty in this tale. He finds the believers’ obsession with “risen zombies, celestial virgins, [and] magic tricks” distasteful on “When the God of Love Returns There’ll Be Hell to Pay,” and the list of sinners rages on. On on “Ballad of the Dying Man,” the general human race is judged to be utterly narcissistic, politicians are called out to be the gangsters we’ve been warned about, the affluent art community is labeled a gaggle of frauds, and even FJM’s fans are dragged through court for finding his rantings appealing. On the flip side, tracks like “Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution” spend their running time deconstructing larger philosophies like capitalism. It is clear Tillman is dissatisfied and frustrated with the current status quo, but what he refuses to do is give in. Instead, this bearded prophet chooses to channel his anger into dissolving the metaphorical chains he perceives to be holding his fellow man back from exultation: “their idea of freedom is a prison on beliefs they never have to leave.”
Though “Pure Comedy” is finished with a bitter topcoat, the record undeniably overflows with Tillman’s love of his fellow man. Tillman’s idealism has slowly turned into earnest realism in his later years, but it is clear to the listener that he has not completely lost hope in us all. Exquisitely orchestrated, ambitious and with a wide breadth of topics indulged, “Pure Comedy” was never meant to solely amass endless laughs but instead to encourage critical analysis of the “whys” behind our current dilapidated and unsatisfying existence. We are all held accountable for the resulting world portrayed in the record, our complicity (including FJM’s) is the accountability piece of which he wants us all to take ownership. The chaos is as much ours as it is his. Truly heartfelt, “Pure Comedy” doesn’t allow cynicism to overtake sympathy and it is this carefully-fostered detail that allows the music’s beauty to shine through. Though the record itself does ask for a great deal of endurance from those who choose to partake in the 74-minute journey, the gorgeous and irresistibly enchanting music is well worth it.
“Pure Comedy” is available on Apple Music April 7.