Josh Tillman, also known by his moniker Father John Misty, isn’t optimistic about mankind’s future. His new album “Pure Comedy” is many things: it’s a grueling satire of society, it’s a reflexive meditation, it’s endlessly clever — but it’s not hopeful.
Given the present political and social tension in the U.S., it’s not hard to see where these anxieties stem from. Many of the songs portray dystopian futures — extensions of Tillman’s distorted thought process. The song “Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution” depicts a climate-change-ridden, post-apocalyptic wasteland. “When the God of Love Returns There’ll Be Hell To Pay” shows the rueful second coming of Christ.
One of the problems with Father John Misty’s past work is that it critiques, but doesn’t reflect. He’s often so busy hammering at what he thinks is wrong, he isn’t able to ponder his placement in the larger scheme of life. On “Pure Comedy,” we hear Tillman’s ruminations on his fans, success and position in the entertainment industry. The results aren’t pretty.
In the 13-minute song “Leaving LA,” Tillman addresses the vapidity of his audience. “And I'm merely a minor fascination to / Manic virginal lust and college dudes / I'm beginning to begin to see the end / Of how it all goes down between me and them / Some 10-verse chorus-less diatribe / Plays as they all jump ship, ‘I used to like this guy / This new s--- really kinda makes me wanna die.’”
Tillman often stumbles into hypocrisy, but at least he’s self-aware of his infractures. In “The Ballad of the Dying Man,” he describes a man on his deathbed, bemoaning the fact that no one will criticize the phonies when he’s gone.
“Just think of all the overrated hacks running amok / And all of the pretentious, ignorant voices that will go unchecked / The homophobes, hipsters, and one percent / The false feminists he'd managed to detect / Oh, who will critique them once he's left?”
The dying man’s an extension of Father John Misty himself. There’s an inherent addictiveness in pointing out the flaws of others, while ignoring you own. If you look for the worst in society, you’re going to find it.
This pessimism comes from Tillman’s intense desire to be understood. But through the culmination of Tillman’s extensive musical career, he’s reached a bitter conclusion: human beings are awful, ruthless and contradictory. But they’re also the only reason to live, absurd as that may be.
In the title track “Pure Comedy,” Tillman expands on this, singing “The only thing that seems to make [people] feel alive is the struggle to survive / But the only thing that they request is something to numb the pain with / Until there's nothing human left / Just random matter suspended in the dark / I hate to say it, but each other's all we got.”
This last line is a reluctant plea. And like the album “Pure Comedy,” it realizes the limitations of satire and self-destructive necessity of mankind.
Contact Drew Cowen at email@example.com