Father John Misty’s eagerly awaited new album, Pure Comedy delivers in spades. ‘Pure Comedy’ kicks things off on a sombre note and Josh Tillman has a voice that carries the weight and experience of a life lived, with the lyrics to match. We enter into a surrealistic suburban domesticity that finds the singer looking for something to “endow the horror show with meaning” as the chorus states that modern life is “a period comedy”.
Like a 21st century Dante, the words skewer society, pointing out the truth behind the facade. Over a delicate piano, religion is examined and found wanting: “They get terribly upset when you question their sacred texts, written by a woman-hating epileptic”. You can almost see the crowds waving their flags and hoping to make their country great again. This is not the soundtrack for the Fox News watchers. ‘Total Entertainment Forever’ rocks along, dissecting the normality of the everyday and the vacuous nature of our obsession with – and seeking of – pop culture distraction: “In the new age we will all be entertained”. A judicious use of a sax solo cuts through proceedings in a most satisfying way.
‘Things It Would Be Helpful To Know Before the Revolution’ keeps the flow going nicely. The falsetto is a joy as message and melody meld. It is a beautiful thing to hear an artist this confident in their ability, willing and able to take on all-comers head first. With ‘Ballad of the Dying Man’, acoustic is to the fore, while ‘Birdie’ starts with heady backward soundscapes that speak to a discontent and jaundiced world view before settling into an uneasy mellow acquiescence. ‘Leaving LA’ is, at 13 minutes, the album’s most transparent bid for epic status, but it’s never boring. “Oh baby, it’s time to leave, take the van and the hearse down to New Orleans” shows that our singer is in no mood for artifice and he takes no prisoners as advertising, music scenes and phonies are given a good old-fashioned kicking. These are, he believes, “the manufactured gasps of the final days”.
‘A Bigger Paper Bag’ follows and the strings swoon and sway, suggesting there is no space to draw breath and stop. ‘When the God of Love Returns, There’ll be Hell to Pay’, ‘Smoochie’ (Lap steel loneliness and bar room country abound) and ‘Two Wildly Different Perspectives’ push the sentiment forward. The latter boasts echoes of Pink Floyd at their very best, filtered through Elton John in all his ’70s pomp. It all leaves you wanting more. ‘The Memo’ is a simple song with one of the best opening lines for many a year – “Gonna steal some bedsheets from an amputee”. You can’t help but laugh as art scenes are put to the sword in fantastic fashion.
‘So I’m Growing Old on Magic Mountain’ and ‘In Twenty Years or So’ brings Pure Comedy to a close and in some style. The climax sees the juxtaposition of synth and piano close out what is surely one of the albums of the year. This is a fantastic piece of work. It is vital, energetic and real and it is music for protean times. Where are we now? Where are we going? Where have we been? For sure, we live in interesting times and whatever your standpoint may be, get on this album and get on it now.