Father John Misty
God’s Favorite Customer
It’s a third full-length album in four years from Josh Tillman’s ever beguiling alter-ego – and while last year’s Pure Comedy was a challenging, at times impenetrable, listen – spanning 74 minutes and reflecting on the darkness engulfing politics, climate change and humanity at large – this time, the tone is often more summery. At least on the surface. For beneath all the three-minute songs and woozy Lennon-esque harmonies, God’s Favorite Customer, written largely in New York in summer 2016 and early 2017, is an album that examines heartache, separation and the fleeting, giddy allure of freedom from all angles.
As ever with a Father John Misty record, the line between autobiography and multifarious observations through sometimes ironic lenses is opaque. The outstanding ‘White Album’-evoking opener Hangout At The Gallows, with majestic cello and Harrison-esque lead guitar, ponders the big questions: “What’s your politics, what’s your religion?” against uncharacteristically breezy “yeah yeah yeahs”. Mr. Tillman barely breaks the three-minute mark, a tale of misadventure which also finds him in unusually chirpy form: “I’m feeling good, damn I’m feeling so fine/ I’m living in a cloud above an island in my mind”.
Just Dumb Enough To Try returns to Pure Comedy’s more sombre territory, a reflective farewell with aching slide guitar and a brief, fizzing solo: “I’m just dumb enough to try to keep you in my life for a little while longer/ I’m insane enough to think I’m going to get out with my skin and start my life again”. Its abrupt ending frames its devastating beauty, while Please Don’t Die deals with more fear of loss: “One more cryptic message, thinking that I might end it/ Oh God you must have woken up to me saying that it’s all too much/ I’ll take it easy with the morbid stuff”. Another sub-three-minute spin, Disappointing Diamonds Are The Rarest Of Them All sounds unlike anything Tillman’s done to date, and not dissimilar from Elliott Smith with its slapback falsetto, jaunty piano chords and exultant brass.
The title track probes the relationship between sin and forgiveness, a searching, earnest chorus checked by Tillman’s accompanying sense of wit and irony: “Beware the man who has everything/ Everything that he wants/ You can spot him from a mile away/ His gold chain and only one pair of socks”.
The Songwriter is a sparse piano ballad, Tillman again playing with perspectives on the dissolution of a relationship: “What would it sound like if you were the songwriter, and loving me was your unsung masterpiece?”. He closes a record that’s as good as anything he’s made with three more questions that hint at reconciliation: “I think the end of it all may look a lot like the beginning/ We’re passed around from hand to hand, screaming for no particular reason/ The company gets pretty thin, so we start to shed all our distinctions/ So why not me? Why not you? Why not now?” Gary Walker