Father John Misty – Pure Comedy review

Secret Meeting score: 87

by Phil Scarisbrick

I remember having a conversation with a friend in November 2016 about how crazy the year had been. We’d lost creative powerhouses in Alan Rickman, Glen Frey, Harper Lee, Sir George Martin, Prince and most importantly to us, David Bowie. Alongside them, other icons such as Muhammed Ali, Arnold Palmer and Johan Cruyff had also died. The subject had come up because that day we’d heard the news that we’d lost yet another luminary in Leonard Cohen. We riffed on the idea of how shit the year had been and how we hoped that 2017 would be better. Eleven days later Donald Trump was elected, dispelling any hopes we’d had that 2016 was a blip. With this backdrop, Josh Tillman released his third long-player under the Father John Misty pseudonym, Pure Comedy.

It would be easy to tag the album as a reaction to Trump’s election victory, but in reality it is an album about a world where it is possible for a morally-bankrupt, reality TV star to be elected ‘Leader of the Free World’ and Tillman’s struggle to find a place in it. The tone is set with the opening title track where he asks us, ‘Where did they find these goons they elected to rule them?/What makes these clowns they idolize so remarkable?/These mammals are hell-bent on fashioning new gods/So they can go on being godless animals.’ Perfectly fitting for the post-Trump era, yet written many months before.

Total Entertainment Forever gained headlines for its opening line ‘Bedding Taylor Swift/Every night inside the Oculus Rift,’ yet this riff on our lust for easily consumable and readily available content is as near to upbeat as we get on this album. Leaving L.A. may be the ‘Ten-verse, chorus-less diatribe’ that he describes in the song itself, but it’s a stunning piece of song-writing where Tillman lays everything on the line. Closing with In Twenty Years or So, this 75-minute behemoth concludes that ‘there’s nothing to fear’. Perhaps a beacon of hope to send us on our way, with much to ponder about the rich ideas posed by a man at the top of his game.

For fans of Father John Misty, this album may be make-or-break for their ongoing devotion. If the knowing winks and satire of songs like I’m Writing a Novel or Bored in the U.S.A. are all you want to hear from him, then this album may seem a misstep to you. That would be a shame though because for me, this is his most accomplished work. In a world that seems so crazy, why not have a former Evangelist Christian-turned-crooner who micro-doses acid to keep his ongoing mental health issues at bay soundtrack it? Especially when that soundtrack is as wonderful as Pure Comedy.