When Humanity is Pure Comedy…
Following the success of FJM’s 2015 release, I Love You, Honeybear, Josh Tillman returns for round two on Pure Comedy, this time taking a seat at the piano.
The contents of Pure Comedy sound like they were recorded, each sound with great intent, in a professional, sterile studio. Tillman’s sound has veered quite a bit, considering the contrast from the unique track “True Affection” from his previous album to the now Elton John-inspired, theatrical sound accomplished by the addition of piano. In fact, it seems as though writing interesting melodies has taken a backseat to what’s actually being said in each song — which is probably why Tillman decided to accompany the album with an essay, in which he delves into the psychology of the current state of mankind, including something about how bears will keep us in check. It was long and heavy, much like the album.
There are some interesting choices in Pure Comedy, including the over-thirteen-minute “Leaving LA,” which could have just been the same verse on a loop for all we know, which is quite appropriate considering how long it takes and the frustration that getting anywhere in L.A. involves. Tillman sings, “These L.A. phonies and their bullshit bands / that sound like dollar signs and Amy Grant / so reads the pull quote from my last cover piece / entitled ‘The Oldest Man in Folk Rock Speaks’ / you can hear it all over the airwaves / the manufactured gasp of the final days / someone should tell them ‘bout the time that they don’t have / to praise the glorious future and the hopeless past,” certainly implying that his stripped-down, no-bullshit style is superior to whatever is going on in popular culture. What’s also interesting — or, rather, uninteresting — is the lack of musical diversity in Pure Comedy. “A Bigger Paper Bag” and “So I’m Growing Old on Magic Mountain” are the only slight standouts, as they choose to highlight interesting melodies and instrumental textures.
One thing that is not often said about Father John Misty is that he’s uninteresting. His personality and talents have gotten him very far in his career, earning the likes of several pop star collaborators including Queen Bey herself. His lyricism is thought-provoking and storytelling, but with an air of superiority. Even the title, Pure Comedy, comes off as sarcastic, and listening to the entire album feels like one big, long lecture that we’ve already heard — not so enjoyable.