The Father speaks, congregate!
When I first heard the name “Father John Misty”, around mid-2017, at the height of his Pure Comedy promotion, I thought “what a bunch of indie folk toss, another boring prick making art students wet themselves”. That being said, the influx of mind-bogglingly positive reviews surrounding his 2017 release tempted me to give it a listen, and I really was blown away. Mr Tillman’s witty and sardonic songwriting flows brilliantly with the classy and catchy piano/acoustic guitar-led melodies, leading to a soft rock record that felt both important and entertaining. High praise, indeed.
So when it came to hearing the Father’s follow-up, God’s Favourite Customer, I was expecting, and hoping for a similar deal, as the title suggested. The initial singles, Mr Tillman, Disappointing Diamonds and Just Dumb Enough To Try, also indicated this, and I was positively brimming when I got my hands on it, to the point where I spent a cool £25 to see him on my own in October (oo, damn). Whether or not he could keep the momentum going, however, was yet to be seen.
The album at least kicks off on strong footing with Hangout At The Gallows. An ominous instrumental, this song sets the slightly melancholy tone of the album brilliantly. The drunken pace of the drums, with the intermittent distorted guitars, give this seedy, Bad Seeds-vibe, offset by the grandeur in the strings, pianos and backing vocals, which are all Misty. I’m loving the apocalyptic tone of the lyrical content, straight off of Pure Comedy, and his vocal performance, the pinched falsettos in the chorus, make this a very solid way to introduce the album, and is one of the best songs on it.
This quality is matched with the follow-up, lead single Mr. Tillman. Immediately a more driving song, with the rambling pianos and marching drums, there’s a stronger element of the “hotel room” concept here, the lyrics probably the most overt on the album. The melody here still has that air of mystery about it too, something I love to FJM capture, combining an upbeat folk song with the etching feeling that something’s not quite right.
The album’s first noticeable dip in quality comes with the slow-paced Just Dumb Enough To Try. While it’s by no means a bad song, it definitely doesn’t live up to what the previous tracks laid down. The songwriting feels a bit sleepier, bringing up the subdued snoring of Keane would not be inaccurate. However, this song also has more of those stumbling snares and Misty’s fine falsettos, so that’s nice.
However, it perks up nicely with Date Night. Picking up the pace at just the right time, I’m loving how the piano and bass bounce along the guitars together, with the hi-hats feeling really crispy under it. Seriously though, the bass here is especially impressive, coming out of nowhere in this burst of muddy grooves and mahogany tones. This is where Tillman’s vocals shine once again, and the subtle electronic elements, those erratic drones that shred up the keys near the end, add yet another dimension to it.
With the following track, Please Don’t Die, Josh’s warbling vocals, haybale guitars and harmonicas takes the album on a detour down the country roads. This also comes with a sense of self-awareness that you’d expect from an FMJ release with the line “One more cryptic message“, as well as the chronicling of a very tumultuous time in Tillman’s life, a purpose to which the entire album serves. It’s a warm contrast to the previous track and has an excellent video to boot.
The mood slows down with the sombre The Palace. Undoubtedly the come-down song, the bare instrumental, centred around this gorgeously naked piano melody, really emphasises the vulnerability that Josh presents on this album. The lyrics are powerful expressions of regret and confusion, with the repeated mantra “I’m way in over my head“. The introversion of it all, combined with the sly wit (“the poem zone“), makes this a particularly bittersweet track, and it’s emotional high, for me.
We are instantly and jubilantly uplifted, however, on the track Disappointing Diamonds Are The Rarest Of Them All. One of the shorter songs on the album, the big-band feel of the instrumental can be compared to previous FJM hits like Total Entertainment Forever, with Tillman’s rousing piano leading the cacophonic horns and chaotic guitars, a Mark Ronson turn on the bass to boot. It’s such a contrast to the song before it, and shows how Josh is able to turn on a dime.
Mixing in very nicely from that is the title track, God’s Favourite Customer. Almost a spiritual successor to Disappointing Diamonds in terms of songwriting, there’s a similar optimism in the instrumental, mixed with the country-esque harmonica of Please Don’t Die, and some divine keyboard embellishments. The lyrics aren’t as memorable as they could’ve been, however, and the backing vocals near the song’s end tend to hit me as slightly melodramatic or overly atmospheric.
The furthest dip in quality on the album, however, comes with the penultimate track, The Songwriter. The predictable structure and generic piano melody make this the weakest song on the album, by quite a margin. Saying that, the vocals here are still consistently fine, and there are a few lyrical gems, such as “Would you undress me repeatedly in public/To show how very noble and naked you can be?“. Still, pffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff.
Finally, though, we are sent off to the tune of We’re Only People (And There’s Not Much Anyone Can Do About That), a fantastic closer and one of the best songs on the album. I’ve seen this track in particular garner criticism for the lyrics, which see, after his middling on issues throughout the album, Tillman offer no real conclusion or answer. However, I absolutely love this, as it encapsulates everything God’s Favourite Customer is to me; this, almost, purposeful anti-climax after the grandeur of his last album. This anti-climax is the most Father John Misty way to end an album. Besides this, the instrumental, again, is one of the biggest on the album, with these cymbal-heavy drums and eccentric guitar-leads, all centered around the man and his piano.
Overall, with his fourth album under the Father John Misty moniker, Mr Tillman gives us another extremely well-structured and worthwhile album. The mixing is nigh-on perfect, with a solid amount of instrumental variation, with a gravitation around a concrete skeleton to keep things familiar. Misty’s lyricism, while easing back on the dry humour of previous releases, is introspective, engaging and self-aware, and his vocal performances likewise. If you’re one for a bit of harmless pretention, you’re in for a treat.
Lots of hugs, kisses and lacerations