It’s not so common in the modern music business to release two albums 18 months apart (disregarding King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s five album 2017), but Father John Misty is just dumb enough to try.
“God’s Favorite Customer” was produced by Josh Tillman (Father John Misty), and recorded with Father John Misty’s touring group; Foxygen band members, Johnathan Rado, Dave Cerminara, and Trevor Spencer; as well as, Natalie Mering (Weyes Blood), Haxan Cloak, and Johnathan Wilson.
Father John Misty released “Pure Comedy” in January of 2017 to critical and overall acclaim (probably not hard to find a few people who really hated it, though), and will follow it up June 1 with “God’s Favorite Customer.” Releasing three singles thus far: “Mr. Tillman,” “Just Dumb Enough To Try,” and “Disappointing Diamonds Are The Rarest Of Them All.” Along with a music video for the first single, “Mr. Tillman,” which depicts the narrative of the song, adding a dark layer.
As the album/video artwork might suggest, the songs are warm and lush, sounding closer to 2015’s “I Love You, Honeybear”, than Tillman’s latest release.
Father John Misty was at his ironic, satirically piercing best with “Pure Comedy”, riffing off something at the centre of David Foster Wallace’s novel Infinite Jest. (In which there’s a movie so entertaining it kills anyone who watches it, death by total entertainment etc.)
The point being that the album had a certain edge to it, a kind of frustration or restlessness. Articulated in songs like “Total Entertainment Forever,” “Bored In The USA,” “The Ballad Of The Dying Man,” and “Things It Would Have Been Helpful To Know Before The Revolution.”
“Just Dumb Enough To Try,” however, sounds like a more mature, warmer take on the types of tracks that appear on “I Love You, Honeybear.”
The massive swelling climax coloured by brass and strings, and the buzzy extended guitar solo on “Just Dumb Enough To Try,” compared to “Ideal Husband” from 2015, for example.
Lyrically, “Just Dumb Enough To Try” follows the thematic narrative/structure of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” where Tillman is essentially saying he’s got all the experiences of love, but ultimately doesn’t know a whole lot about it.
Whereas Mitchell sings, “I’ve looked at love from both sides now/Give and take/But still somehow it’s love’s illusions that I have found.”
Tillman sings in the opening verse, “I know a few ten-cent words/I can break out to keep up with her/But you can take what I know about love/And drown it in the sink.”
A structure that, like “Both Sides Now,” remains for each verse.
Tillman establishes that all the fancy stuff he knows or can do is meaningless for how little he knows about love. So it’s clear that what Tillman is valuing in his life is love, despite knowing enough about it to ultimately be defeated by it. The obvious take (the chorus literally says “I’m insane”) is that Tillman thinks he is stupid for continuing this relationship. However, I would suggest Tillman is being ironic (in the literal sense) rather than sardonic, when he sings:
“But I’m just dumb enough to try
To keep you in my life
For a little while longer
And I’m insane enough to think
I’m gonna get out with my skin
And start my life again”
The phrasing and pacing of the song, the slow but crashing rhythm, the warm horns and saxophone, the slow soulful guitar solo atop an ambient landscape, come together in a way that adds a redeeming quality to the chorus. In this context, when he says ‘dumb’ he is realizing all he can be is dumb.
Mr. Ill man
Like his previous three albums, “God’s Favorite Customer” will follow a particular theme or narrative. Particularly with “Mr. Tillman”, it seems as though Father John Misty is building upon the dystopian future within “Pure Comedy.” In the sense that the persona ‘Mr. Tillman’ seems to be someone who is a consequence, or product, or casualty of that future – – not so far from the present – – obsessed with entertainment.
The narrative of the song is not far off the persona Tillman has created thus far with respect to the moniker Father John Misty. “Mr. Tillman” has Tillman in what appears to be a classic alcohol/drug/poor decision induced bender, however it eventually becomes apparent something slightly darker going on.
So the image shifts from hipster-savant-rake on a soul-searching psychedelic trip, to someone within a delusional infinite loop that is the result of a mental illness.
Tillman’s reality exists almost solely in his mind, part of the delusion being that he thinks he’s having a pretty legendary time. But at the end of the music video was see Mr. Tillman is the only patron of the hotel, the sign in sheet eventually reading “Ill Man.”
For Father John Misty, that ”insanity” – – in thematic context of “Mr. Tillman” and “Pure Comedy” – – is a perfectly sane outcome for someone under the pressure of fame and the culture of entertainment.