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Father John Misty – God’s Favorite Customer

June 13, 2018

Josh Tillman is a folkie with Sgt. Pepper ambitions. Like Vincent Damon Furnier, who plays Alice Cooper, Tillman brilliantly inhabits a character: Father John Misty. You are not sure where the man ends and the character begins. The character is not goth, does not wear makeup or a mask. Instead the character is the classic singer songwriter: an annoyingly sincere and pretentious asshole. In Tillman’s own words: “There’s something innately false about performance, I wanted to be authentically bogus rather than bogusly authentic.” Tillman has honed the Misty character over four albums and it never gets old. If you ever get a chance to see him live do it. On stage he slithers – the perfect visual for his music.

With three great albums in a row, Misty was contending to be my new Ryan Adams. Now he has thrown down a fourth great album. He really is in the Ryan Adams stratosphere – the kind of guy who can’t make a bad album.

God’s Favorite Customer is a new progression. Misty is all out psychedelic and he takes his folk rock to a Fleetwood Mac/Steely Dan level. That is, he has created his own voice and he is making production perfect easy listening, yet twisted pop. In the late 70s/early 80s this kind of act would have been huge. The late 70s and early 80s was the era that formed my musical taste, so this music is right up my alley. Misty has discovered this treasure chest and created his own version – a unique and distinctive style. This is not a classic rock impression, Misty has made a brand new classic rock. It is totally contemporary and not a tribute. This is music for now.

I know a lot of people are down on the state of the music business. But this is a great time to be a music fan. You have access to everything for a nominal fee (streaming). Musicians have to make their money touring and so they are forced to be great performers or be lost. Most shows I see these days are great because of that. And vinyl is back – what else needs to be said? Misty is a great example of what is right with the music business right now. Misty checks all the boxes:

  • Songwriter
  • LP maker (musician, arranger, producer, salesman, etc.)
  • Performer
  • Provocateur

I have been struggling recently to keep up on my blogging. I have been listening to a lot of music and enjoying it, but I was not getting the buzz. I needed a new album to grab me. Misty has grabbed me.

Last year’s Pure Comedy was a slow burn. It took me awhile to appreciate it. God’s Favorite Customer is more like a sequel to I Love You, Honeybear. It catches you on the first listen. Although Fear Fun is an outstanding debut, Misty has significantly grown. God’s Favorite Customer finds Misty more comfortably in character – dare I say sincere. Maybe this Misty character is not a put-on after all. But don’t worry, Misty has not lost any of his humor, cynicism or bite.

Misty has always been a great singer, but on God’s Favorite Customer he seems to have gotten even better.

The album opens with “Hangout At The Gallows” which is classic Misty, both sonically and lyrically. This is Misty at his most elaborate. This song could comfortably fit on The Beatles’ Abby Road or Radiohead’s Ok Computer.

“Hangout At The Gallows” seamless segues into “Mr. Tillman” which is like looking into a mirror with a mirror. Misty the character is telling a story about Tillman the guy who plays the Misty character. One of the recurring themes of this album is going crazy alone at a hotel. “Mr. Tillman” introduces that theme here.

“Just Dumb Enough To Try” is Misty at his 70s classic rock finest. It has the sound of Madman Across The Water era Elton John crossed with The Moody Blues. It is a juxtaposition of gorgeous music and tortured lyrics.

“Date Night” is the pure swagger of a cad.

“Please Don’t Die” closes out side one. This song could easily fit on one of several Ryan Adams albums. It is aching.

When you go to the flip side and set the needle into “The Palace,” you enter deep into the twisted psyche of Father John Misty. It is a combination of depression and humor. The sound of a man who has spent too much time contemplating his navel and is now sinking into an abyss and the only escape is to reunite with his true love. This could easily be a Joni Mitchell song.

“Disappointed Diamonds Are The Rarest Of Them All” sounds like a lost ELO hit. Misty eviscerates Madison Avenue sentiments:

Disappointing diamonds are the rarest of them all
And a love that lasts forever really can’t be that special
Sure we know our roles, and how it’s supposed to go
Does everybody have to be the greatest story ever told?

The titular cut has the nonchalance of Penn/Moman’s “Dark End Of The Street.” It is a gorgeous ballad.

On “The Songwriter” Misty turns the tables on himself. A kinder and gentler “Positively 4th Street.”

The album ends with “We’re Only People (And There’s Not Much Anyone Can Do About That)” a meditation on the fact that we don’t know anything about who we really are:

People, we’re only people
There’s not much anyone can do, really do about that
But it hasn’t stopped us yet
People, we know so little about ourselves
But just enough to wanna be nearly anybody else
How does that add up?

It is a nice bow to tie up the album.

Is this Misty’s best album yet? It might be.

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