Album Review: Father John Misty – God’s Favourite Customer

Words by Tom Saunders

Since winning many hearts with his sophomore album I Love You, Honeybear in 2015, Josh Tillman aka Father John Misty has been firmly on every indie kid/songwriter/hipster/music lover’s radar. 2017’s Pure Comedy was a bleak and somewhat bloated collection of songs with its focus aimed squarely at American politics and everything surrounding it. Barely a year later, we have been gifted yet another release from the man who is continuing to fully embrace his alter ego as a means of getting it all across.

Father John Misty - God's Favourite Customer artwork

“Sun is rising, black is turning blue” is the opening line of track one, ‘Hangout At The Gallows’ – is this a rare glimmer of optimism from a man who has a tendency to write about how screwed we all really are? He continues, “just twenty minutes ‘fore the boat capsize, I’m treading water as I bleed to death”. Oh, apparently not. Tillman isn’t messing around here: “What’s your politics? What’s your religion? What’s your intake? What’s your reason for living?” he interrogates. It’s heavy, but this is hardly new thematic territory for Misty’s lyrics: “Is this the part where I get all I ever wanted? Who said that? Can I get my money back?” he demanded on ‘Bored In The USA’, while simultaneously summing up and completely questioning the key to life on ‘Holy Shit’: “No one ever really knows you and life is brief, so I’ve heard, but what’s that gotta do with this black hole in me?”.

First single ‘Mr Tillman’ is a tale about, well, Tillman and an ongoing situation with some hotel staff that supposedly encounter him frequently (“good to see you again”) and is arguably the record’s most instant, upbeat moment. It’s just too slow to tap your foot to but just fast enough for you to enjoy the mid-tempo groove that’s been fleshed out with dense harmonies and of course, lush acoustic guitars. While Tillman expresses his blissful joy in the chorus, “I’m feeling good, damn, I’m feeling so fine”, it comes across as slightly surreal rather than a directly positive feeling, like someone might say were they on morphine.

‘Just Dumb Enough To Try’ is one of his most gorgeous arrangements to date, full of the sliding melodies and falsetto that Tillman does so naturally (almost to a fault at times, as it can make lesser songs sound better than they are). However, with its out-of-tune guitars and rickety pianos, ‘Date Night’ is a piece of lo-fi production far removed from the lavish string arrangements that oozed all over the Honeybear album. ‘The Palace’ recalls the sparse desperation of John Lennon’s ‘Isolation’ and finds Misty documenting his own experience of living in a hotel, contemplating things such as getting a pet so he can “learn how to take care of someone else” before whimpering the refrain “I’m in over my head” over a chord that leaves the mood sour and unresolved.

God’s Favourite Customer is a collection of songs that finds Misty seemingly bewildered by the current state of, well, everything. On the closing track ‘We’re Only People (And There’s Not Much Anyone Can Do About That)’ he muses “You’ve been hurt, and I’ve been hurt, but what do we do now?”, expressing despair for the future of the human race much in the way that he did on Pure Comedy. While similar in that sense, its ten songs of varying length make it a far more manageable listen than its predecessor, and doesn’t leaving you feeling devoid of all emotion by the end. There is enough production, arrangement and melodic variation here to keep you coming back with an itch to know and ultimately love the songs as Father John Misty explores isolation, desperation and pain in the way he will always know best.