Josh Tillman aka Father John Misty’s last album, I Love You Honeybear, was like a lavishly-decorated birthday cake, all icing, piping and fruit – you were initially impressed but only when you cut into it did you realise there was just plain spongecake inside. It was lush, slickly produced, smoothly crooned, and utterly, utterly empty at its core. But at least it had a few decent tunes. Pure Comedy takes that template, ditches the tunes, and drags it out to over 70 depressing minutes. Depressing not because these songs are sad, or speak volumes about the tragedy of the human condition, but because they’re hollow, the sound of a pub bore in love with the sound of his own voice rehashing opinions and theories that have been expressed more eloquently a million times by others.
Take the album opener and title track, in which Tillman takes aim at – ooh, edgy – the religious right, with a pompous tone suggesting he’s the first singer ever to have the idea, voicing his disdain in some of the most hamfisted lyrics you’ll hear all year – “They worship themselves yet they’re totally obsessed/With risen zombies, celestial virgins, magic tricks, these unbelievable outfits/And they get terribly upset when you question their sacred texts”. Ditto first single ‘Two Wildly Different Perspectives’, a look at how the US political system screws everyone – “One side says ‘Kill em all’/The other says ‘Line those killers up against the wall’/But either way some blood is shed”. Josh, my 15-year old self called and he wants his poetry back.
Pure Comedy is like some hellish experiment in which bland but inoffensive 1980s yacht rock legend Christopher Cross (‘Arthur’s Theme’) is hypnotised into thinking he’s some kind of visionary savant and musical genius, an experiment that culminates with the mindnumbingly tedious ‘Leaving LA’, a 14-minute (yes, you read that correctly, 14-minute) rant about how shallow LA is, some disingenuous self-mockery about how Tillman takes himself too seriously, when the truth is that he tries to come across like he doesn’t take himself seriously at all, but in fact he does, but there’s no real substance to back it up; and some arrogant bollocks about how this song is taking him to a new level and leaving his old fanbase behind (“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 but this new shit really kinda makes me wanna die’”), and if, as I have just realised, this paragraph reads like a mess it’s because the song is a mess, the sound of a man so far up his own arse he’s lost the ability to communicate with anything beyond his own ringpiece. He sounds as bored and jaded with the whole sorry mess as I am, yet still desperate to show how clever he thinks he is. Josh, if you’re so obviously bored with music, try writing a book. I won’t read it, but try writing a book.
Even worse is state-of-popular-culture rant ‘The Memo’, in which Tillman compares himself to modern art and pop bands and, naturally, finds them wanting, because of course what the world needs more of right now is third-rate Elton Johns (a little unfair to Elton, given that I can hum several of his songs); and ‘Ballad of the Dying Man’, a critique of critics, which again hints at self-mockery but which is really aimed at those who think Tillman isn’t a genius. When of course he IS a genius, because he can rhyme ‘Taylor Swift’ with ‘Oculus Rift’. No, he’s Gerard Kenny with a Monocle subscription.
All of this is set to immaculate LA soft-rock, the kind of thing that dominated radio before punk broke, the kind of thing we once hoped and believed we’d confined to Smooth FM. There’s no variety, no upbeat numbers, no peaks or troughs, not even any virtuoso musicianship to briefly capture the attention. Just 72 minutes of blandness, with Tillman’s verbal diarrhoea smeared all over it. Like being stuck in a bar being harangued by some millennial backpacker who thinks he knows it all because he just spent a month getting stoned in Thailand, while The Best of Air Supply plays in the background. Really, who let this kind of shit back in?