People often (mistakenly) interpret the Father John Misty persona as being cover for Josh Tillman to be some sort of “holier-than-thou” troll, thus missing the bigger picture on his third album, the 76-minute opus Pure Comedy. The follow-up to Comedy, however, is the polar opposite – God’s Favorite Customer is a concise ten track effort that clocks in under 40 minutes and peels back the Misty avatar to reveal a wounded, introspective Tillman. It takes courage to be this vulnerable – especially when Tillman has spent the last three albums examining and critiquing the world and culture around him. But on his fourth album under the Misty moniker, Tillman takes a step back from that macro view of everything around him and turned his gaze insular, resulting in the most heartbreaking record of 2018.
Father John Misty has released a video for “Things It Would Have Been Helpful To Know Before The Revolution.”
“If you can’t hold two ideas in your head at the same time, you’re not going to get what I do,” he said in April. He’d picked me up on Second Avenue in a livery cab, for a trip out of town. He had on black stovepipe jeans with a small hole in one knee, brown suède pointy zip-up boots, a black T-shirt, and a gray Lemaire overcoat. (“I don’t like sports, I don’t fix cars, so I just buy clothes,” he said.) He was pretzeled in back, a tall man in a small car. From time to time, he cracked his knuckles. “I try to avoid talking about the perception of me in the press,” he told me. “It creates this feedback loop.”
“I think most peoples’ idea of authenticity is pork pie hats and vests and banjos and whatever else, but real authenticity is just empathy, because everyone views their own experiences as being the golden standard for authenticity. If you can empathize with people and make them feel like what you’re talking about is somehow reflective of their own experiences, then you’ve won their vanity, and thus achieved authenticity.”
This is a quote from Father John Misty’s episode of Pitchfork’s Over/Under series, a series Josh Tillman jokingly referred to as a “twisted game” as he and his wife were asked to rate such concepts as self-control, marriage, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. This was Tillman’s explanation of “authenticity,” and though he never formally “rates” the concept, his answer may outline the biggest problem with Pure Comedy, his third album under the FJM moniker. It’s not necessarily Tillman’s polarizing personality (or character, as some call it). It’s not the album’s excessive 74-minute runtime, or even its questionable sequencing.
Put simply, it’s hard to empathize with someone who’s talking down to you.