I don’t need to tell you about Father John Misty (FJM for brevity’s sake) if you’re here, because I’m taking it you know about him. If not, you can just scroll through any half decent music news website’s newsfeed, as they report literally everything he says or tweets as a bone fide news story. This is because FJM is an endlessly/laboriously quotable, and is also endlessly entertaining/tiring (delete as appropriate depending on your tolerance of him), so the music press, particularly online outlets who rely on clicks to earn dollars (hello!), will write about anything even slightly controversial that comes out of his mouth. Even for a hardened FJM fan, this can be annoying. I like my pop/rock stars to be exciting and outspoken, it’s why I think Kanye is the greatest pop star we have, but sometimes they can say too much in search of column/pixel inches, and FJM treads that line very finely. When he has new music to sell, it reaches its pinnacle/nadir, but still, it’s always incredibly entertaining to read what he has to say, so he’ll keep saying it and outlets will keep reporting it. It’s like a game – he knows what he’s doing, they know what they’re doing, it’s self-serving for both. What’s most impressive is that the music he releases doesn’t need the hype surrounding it, because, and I try not to throw this word about lightly, his new album Pure Comedy may well a bit of a masterpiece.
Pure Comedy is long and dense, in the best possible way. It’s 75 minutes in all, has a centrepiece song that goes along for 13 chorus-less minutes; includes a 10 min song with a 4 min synth outro; it pokes fun and scorn at everything and everyone, including you the listener and of course FJM himself. It shouldn’t be enjoyable, but by God it is, and then some. Take that centrepiece song, for instance. ‘Leaving LA’ was debuted on Lauren Laverne’s 6 Music show (who debuts a 13min long song live on a midday radio show?!), and after finishing the epic track he proclaimed “that’s the whitest, most acoustic thing you’ve ever seen”, which, whilst meant to be self-deprecating, was of course spot on. This is a privileged, middle-class white man bemoaning pretty much the entirety of civilization via the medium of a ’10 verse diatribe’, yet it’s brilliant, compelling, and actually thrilling to listen to.
The song is peak FJM, it’s the FJM persona stretched to the nth degree. He pokes fun at himself, saying that this is ‘just what the world needs, another white guy in 2017 who takes himself so god damn seriously’; he thinks this will lose him fans because it’s so fucking long, that the song ‘plays as they all jump ship: ‘I used to like this guy, but this new shit kinda makes me wanna die’. It’s funny, it’s moving, and it’s uncomfortably truthful. Like the man himself, the song is endlessly quotable, but it’s also musically gorgeous too, subtly shifting constantly as the song progresses, a string section here, a beautiful piano line there, it holds your attention wonderfully. I must have listened to it 10 or 15 times, and I’m still finding new things in it, new favourite lines, new little flourishes; in case you can’t tell, I properly love it.
Elsewhere on the album he covers pretty much every subject that one could be annoyed about in the world today. Religion comes in for a particular bashing on the excellent titular opener ‘Pure Comedy’ (‘how’s this for irony, their idea of being free is a prison of beliefs that they never ever have to leave’), as does the modern obsession with celebrity (that Kanye-esque Taylor Swift line on ‘Total Entertainment Forever’), social media (‘Eventually the dying man takes his last breath, but first checks his news feed to see what he’s about to miss’ on ‘Dying Man’) and humans in general, as he pleads to the creator of the world to ‘try something less ambitious, next time you get bored’ on the wonderfully titled ‘When the God of Love Returns There’ll Be Hell To Pay’. It’s an album that demands, and rewards, your attention and repeat listening.
Musically it’s some of the most diverse and, for him, experimental tunes he’s put together to date. ‘Birdie’ begins with something that resembles the intro to a Radiohead song, all backwards loops and buzzing synths, and ‘The Memo’ is a delightful country pastiche that is nearly as quotable as ‘Leaving LA’. The aforementioned outro to ‘So I’m Growing Old on Magic Mountain’ is 5 mins of sheer, hazy bliss that will sound incredible if you’re a bit ‘refreshed’ on certain substances, it might be the most beautiful thing he’s ever done. But most of all I feel the sound of the album is most indebted to Elton John in its sheer melodic exquisiteness, which, as everyone knows, is never a bad thing. No one else operating in this arena at the moment can come close to the lush piano and guitar lines he conjures across this album, and, oh! that voice; it’s like honey poured on caramel draped in velvet, from baritone to falsetto he destroys with those vocal chords. Even when he’s aiming his scorn directly at me, I giggle like a schoolkid because he’s so frickin’ charming.
By the end you’re left thinking who is the joke on, is it us? Is it the FJM persona? You’re left thinking, actually, is there a joke? Wondering what’s sincere and what’s just the musical equivalent of click-bait? But most of all you’re left thinking ‘does it even matter when it’s so damn entertaining? On ‘A Bigger Paper Bag’, FJM announces ‘I’ve got the world by the balls, am I supposed to behave?’; it might just be the perfect summation of this whole, glorious shtick.
Release Date 7th April 2017 (Bella Union)