Father John Misty
God’s Favorite Customer
Sub Pop · June 1, 2018
Barely a year after the release of the highly analytical Pure Comedy, Father John Misty has returned to preach, and he’s a lot less pissed off this time around. Pure Comedy allowed Father John to deliver his sermons of human criticism all over the world in a theatrical fashion, but since then he’s taken a stride back from concept albums and given birth to the self-produced God’s Favorite Customer. With his 2015 sophomore album I Love You Honeybear, Josh Tillman poured all of the glorious parts of his heart out through his curated holy figure to express the love within him, while Pure Comedy contrasted that love with his hatred for the faults of society. With God’s Favorite Customer, Tillman has somehow combined both of these ideas to make love the target in his crosshairs rather than the bullet. Some unknown explosion in Tillman’s life caused him to pull a reverse Bon Iver: rather than taking to a cabin in the woods for isolation, he ended up residing in a comfortable hotel for two months. After being holed up in what most would consider luxury, Father John Misty had clearly been visited by some personal demons and done some serious self reflection, and he is now focused on his own faults and imperfections rather than ranting about the impurities of general human nature.
Although there are some common themes throughout the record, the tracks on the album don’t seem to be directly intertwined with one another in any way. The idea that this is a traditional ‘concept-free’ album is solidified by the premiere track ‘Hangout at the Gallows.’ The lack of introduction paired with the immediate presence of Misty’s voice submerge you right into what feels like the middle of the album; I found myself checking to make sure I didn’t accidentally have the record playing on shuffle. While the track serves a purpose of letting the listener know that there will not be a concrete thematic path followed through the album, its function is slightly lost within the lack of a ‘wow’ factor that a great album opener typically has; ‘Gallows’ is a bit of a sleeper and may have benefitted from being placed later on in the tracklist.
However, in lowering expectations with the album’s introduction, Misty replies to himself with the substantial and infectiously catchy first single ‘Mr. Tillman.’ This track serves as a blended analysis of both Tillman himself and his Father John Misty character, as it seems as though the two entities are becoming more and more indistinguishable. In delivering confusingly casual lines like “Just a reminder about our policy, don’t leave your mattress in the rain if you sleep on the balcony,” Misty combines the anecdotal humor reminiscent of his 2012 debut Fear Fun with the developed musical elegance that he’s curated on his previous two albums. The track serves as an ode to an idea that has become oddly popular in today’s society: many things are going wrong, but let’s pretend everything is fine. In the somber ‘Just Dumb Enough to Try,’ he even breaks out the millennial mantra “Everything’s cool, I’m great, it’s fine” cradled in a bed of melancholy yet hopeful words. This idea of ignoring reality shines through in ‘Mr. Tillman’ when a concierge at Misty’s hotel palace suggests “Perhaps you shouldn’t drink alone” and he immediately jumps into a chorus of “I’m feeling good, damn, I’m feeling so fine, I’m living on a cloud above an island in my mind.” Numbing reality can be an amazing temporary solution, but anyone who has done it knows that there can and will be an eventual implosion.
Tillman ends up facing the reality of pain in ‘Please Don’t Die’ which lyrically is the Hyde to ‘Mr. Tillman’s’ Jekyll. Misty wakes up and sings of missing his wife, saying that a morning without holding her is a morning wasted. He has clearly suffered some sort of mental shatter that has put him in this lonely hotel room, and he is fearful of worrying the one who cares about him most: his wife. Against the casual antics brought about in ‘Mr. Tillman,’ this track serves to display the seriousness of Misty’s condition and that his isolation is not just a ‘funny situation that will make for good music’; the situation is the life of a man with a wife who is worried about his growing isolation. This somberness bleeds into songs like ‘The Palace’ in which he portrays his seemingly luxurious hotel as a shelter of dark mystery as he admits he is ready to face reality and return home, as well as the album’s title track that is slightly less substantial, but is accompanied by a heavenly hymn-like chorus that is lyrically beautiful (“Speak to me, won’t you speak, sweet angel?”), sounding like an angelic child of John Lennon’s ‘(Just Like) Starting Over.’
My quick, singular Beatle reference reminds me of a reviewer’s cliche on this album. A slew of lazy reviewers have noted the album is “Beatles-esque” simply based on the fact that Misty uses a piano and slap back-delayed vocals on most tracks. I guess the album must also be very “Chuck Berry-esque” too since there’s a guitar somewhere in there, incredibly “Elvis-esque” since he’s a man that sings words into a microphone, right? But I digress. The main reference to the “Beatles-esque” sound most likely points to one of the album’s most thematically substantial tracks, ‘Disappointing Diamonds Are the Rarest of Them All.’ It serves as a true savior from the preceding musical dreariness, but also contains one of the most pungently brutal perspectives found on the record. Here, Misty brings up the increasing rarity of true love; not the fake image of lasting “true love” that is so often portrayed in movies and on modern lovers’ social media accounts, but true eternal love, a love that he questions if he even has in his own marriage. He compares his own love to “a pervert on a crowded bus” and “a constant twitching in [his] eye,” two things that have a dreaded presence and leave people waiting for them to be gone. From an outside perspective, one may question why he would ever write such a song unless he was (not so) secretly wishing for a divorce. However, he could very well be acknowledging that he really does have true love with his wife, and that the spectacle of true love is not as pretty as it is displayed to be; a disappointing diamond may be much rarer than the typical facade of a diamond that is forcibly beautiful, but it has more integrity and honesty.
God’s Favorite Customer gives listeners a more personal look at the internal struggles of Father John Misty rather than a glimpse at his wonderful love life or his opinions on the downfall of society. He paints an image that leaves us and himself perplexed and questioning the rarity of true lasting love.