Albums: Father John Misty’s ‘Pure Comedy’

Father John Misty has returned for the first time since 2015’s wildly successful I Love You, Honeybear with Pure Comedy, a new collection of nice-sounding songs full of long words that nobody these days really understands.

While Honeybear was mostly FJM looking at the world through rose-tinted glasses and only letting a little bit of cynicism in, he has well and truly flipped the switch on Pure Comedy. The first line on the album’s opener/title track is as follows: “The comedy of man starts, like this…, which leads into an exploration of humanity’s failings and what has led us into the position we find ourselves in in 2017. This is further explored on ‘Total Entertainment Forever’, home to the most controversial line on the album: “Bedding Taylor Swift, every night inside the Oculus Rift”. This song serves as both a celebration and a warning of mankind’s advancements in technology, cleverly and simply put through: “Not bad for a race of demented monkeys.”

Misty then delves into a lucid thought as to the pros and cons of what life may be like if the system was overthrown on ‘Things That Would Have Been Helpful To Know Before The Revolution’, a standout on the album, for both its big band bridge and how well it slinks back into a calm, piano driven track that truly does feel like a walk through a post-revolution world, through such well-crafted lyrics as “My social life is now quite a bit less hectic / The nightlife and the protests are pretty scarce” and “Now I spend my days walking through the city / Empty as a tomb”.

As the album progresses, Misty flits between traditional three minute folk tracks ‘Two Wildly Different Perspectives’ and ten minute works that are essentially short stories set to music ‘So I’m Growing Old on Magic Mountain’. The closest FJM gets to the blissful crooning of …Honeybear that launched him to stardom is ‘Smoochie’, interestingly enough by far the least word-y song on the album. “When my personal demons are screaming / and when my door of madness is half-open / You stand alongside / and say something to the effect / That everything’ll be alright soon, Smoochie” – this refrain is half the song, yet the message is clear.

Artistically, Misty is arguably at his most impressive on ‘Leaving L.A.’, a thirteen-minute therapy session, which begins as a scathing critique of Los Angeles: “These L.A phonies and their bullshit bands / That sound like dollar signs and Amy Grant”, but soon becomes an impressively self-aware autobiography: “Mara taunts me ‘neath the tree / She’s like, ‘Oh great, that’s just what we all need / Another white guy in 2017 / Who takes himself so goddamn seriously’ / She’s not far off, the strange thing is / That’s pretty much what I thought when I started this”.

He goes on to ponder if this album may be the end of his career, three albums since he dropped J. Tillman and drumming in indie darlings Fleet Foxes for the current Father John Misty persona, as he observes: “And I’m merely a minor fascination to / Manic virginal lust and college dudes / I’m beginning to begin to see the end / Of how it all goes down between me and them / Some 10-verse chorus-less diatribe / Plays as they all jump ship, ‘I used to like this guy / This new shit really kinda makes me wanna die’.”. Before ‘Leaving L.A.’ is over, he goes on to recount a memory of nearly choking to death in a department store as a child while Fleetwood Mac played. However the most telling moment is the very last verse (of ten), where he sings of finally leaving Los Angeles, with another reference to the end of the world and a parting jab at the culture of L.A, before he trails off entirely in the last line: “I can stop drinking and you can write your script / But what we both think now is…”.

In many ways, ‘Leaving L.A.’ is a microcosm of Pure Comedy as a whole, and where Father John Misty’s (aka Josh Tillman’s) life is at right now, despite confessing to Zane Lowe that ‘Leaving L.A.’ took three years to write. It is pleasant musically, but lyrically succeeds in making the listener uneasy for much of it, and in some moments, outright depressed. That is the state of the world through Misty’s eyes right now, but hope is not completely lost. For a concept album about mankind and the potential to destroy ourselves, each other, and the planet as a whole, there are moments of triumph, in a roundabout sort of way. On ‘Total Entertainment Forever’ he closes with: “When the historians find us we’ll be in our homes / Plugged into our hubs / Skin and bones / A frozen smile on every face / As the stories replay / “This must have been a wonderful place”. While on the title track and the lead single, Misty closes with: “I hate to say it / But each other’s all we’ve got.”

Pure Comedy is out now.

Score: 8.5/10

Lawrence Worledge

Lawrence Worledge is a screenwriter from Hobart, Tasmania, currently living and studying in Melbourne, Victoria. He enjoys sports, craft beer, and badgering whoever sits beside him.

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