Father John Misty: Pure Comedy review – a despairing paean to all that is wrong

(Bella Union)
The follow-up to I Love You, Honeybear unfolds like a would-be Great American Novel, but it’s too clever by half and swamped by mid-tempo piano tracks

You could describe Father John Misty as a satirical maverick; you get the feeling he would like you to. In 2012, Josh Tillman, the former Fleet Foxes drummer, released Fear Fun, a gonzoid set of songs about a druggy Californian breakdown, the first under his pseudonym. In 2015 he followed it with I Love You, Honeybear. The funny, filthy, orchestral tale of how a messed-up male cynic found love in a corrupted world, it instantly surpassed his previous work. But Misty’s other output – snarky radio face-offs, confessional interviews – has compounded the distracting impression of a singer-songwriter who delights in being an irritant.

I Love You, Honeybear’s successor seeks to expand on its ambitious musical and thematic flights. Pure Comedy is a would-be Great American Novel, a clever, despairing paean to everything that is wrong: absurdity, religion, the entertainment-isation of everything. The first stumbling block to its greatness comes in the album’s 70-minute length; the second in its DDoS attack of string-laden piano ballads, most in hock to 70s Elton John. It’s as though Misty has taken Honeybear’s least appealing song – the self-important, canned-applause satire Bored in the USA – and written an album around it, rather than the good tracks about shagging someone you love. When A Bigger Paper Bag recalls Elliott Smith, it comes as succour.

Pure Comedy video.

Acclaim for Honeybear has understandably maxed out Misty’s volubility. But the passages of insight and beauty on Pure Comedy (the coda to So I’m Growing Old On Magic Mountain, for instance) are swamped by mid-tempo piano tracks, and the kind of trolling lyrical clickbait that Misty would probably claim is not clickbait, but rather, an uncomfortably plausible dystopian vision that doubles as a satire on trolling lyrical clickbait. “Bedding Taylor Swift every night inside the Oculus Rift,” begins Total Entertainment Forever. The twonkish lyrical gambit has probably increased traction for the album, but at a cost. The song, like the album, is a nuanced analysis on how humanity has lost its way. The visual, however, is of a creepy guy with stupid goggles doing unspeakable things to America’s sweetheart, a cad on a par with Kanye West.

There are moments here that are truly affecting, like the vignette anchoring Leaving LA, the album’s 13-minute centrepiece. The young Josh chokes on a sweet, as Fleetwood Mac’s Little Lies plays impassively in the background. You wish you could hear more from him. And you wish that the compassionate sincerity in Misty’s work shouted louder than the man’s reputation for self-indulgence.


Kitty Empire

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