Father John Misty’s Pure Comedy is possibly one of my favorite albums to come out in this still unfinished decade. It’s paradoxical. It’s as cynical and misanthropic as it is humanistic and compassionate. However, I felt this strange nervousness in my stomach as the singles to this album, God’s Favorite Customer, began to roll out. It was the nervousness I felt in the months leading up to Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. It’s the anxiety that comes after an artist releases their most conceptual, ambitious record to date and is then tasked with following it up. It’s the uncertainty of the present tense – the suspicion that an artist has already released the best album of their career.
God’s Favorite Customer was doomed from the start, just as DAMN had been. When “Mr. Tillman” arrived, a sardonic and somber take on Father John Misty himself, there was a sense that this album was going to be much more personal and less focused on chopping up specific human issues. Admittedly, this wasn’t initially a let down, as the song has moments of wit as well as an underlying self awareness that, coupled with a great vocal melody, make “Mr. Tillman” one of the best songs on the album. It was when the next two singles, “Just Dumb Enough to Try” and “Disappointing Diamonds Are the Rarest of Them All,” were released, that I began to lose some hope. The former was more melodramatic than anything else, and the latter didn’t have much going for it at all (aside from a funny moment or two.) They were both rather bland tracks that were now placed square in the heart of the album.
When the album released in its entirety, I procrastinated listening to it out of fear that it would be bad. Part of me just did not want to accept the possibility that Father John Misty was on the downswing after Pure Comedy and I Love You, Honeybear. Eventually, I started playing “Hangout at the Gallows,” and found it to be carrying along the same kind of vocal and instrumental epicness that were imbued throughout the beginning of Pure Comedy. The lyrics, however, are far more esoteric, though they manage to successfully portray Father John Misty as the somber antihero of the album.
However, a problem arises at certain points in this album when it begins to feel too much like narcissistic self-loathing. We all love to make fun of ourselves, but hearing someone do it several times (“Mr. Tillman,” “Date Night,” “Just Dumb Enough to Try”) makes it sound excessive and like a lesson is being ignored that had long ago been necessary to learn. Hating yourself doesn’t absolve you from the things you hate, and Father John Misty has been hating himself for about his whole discography.
When God’s Favorite Customer does manage to shine, it’s in these moments of sincere introspection, like the title track, “The Songwriter,” and “Please Don’t Die.” “The Songwriter” in particular is an exceptionally beautiful moment on this record, because it’s so refreshing the way Father John Misty reflects on the way he uses his wife in his songwriting, the way that must impact her, and what it suggests about himself. Coupled with “Please Don’t Die,” a song where he takes his wife’s perspective on his suicidal thoughts and tendencies, songs like this show a bit of maturation on Misty’s part as well as the more personal aspect of his songwriting that this album uses as its main feature.
Sadly, this album had big shoes to fill, but I think Father John Misty made the right move in choosing to go more personal as opposed to more abstract and ambitious. That being said, this is definitely one of the least sonically pleasing FJM albums, especially since there’s no real flow or consistent tone. The jump in mood from “The Songwriter” to “We’re Only People” is an example of this. Yet, it’s still an album that is worth listening to, especially if you thought Pure Comedy was too much of an egotistical slog like a strong amount of critics.