Egotistical. Self-absorbed. Pretentious. These are all words commonly used to describe Joshua Tillman, or as he’s more commonly known, Father John Misty. However, these seemingly negative qualities account for why his music works. God’s Favorite Customer, released back in June, is a much more personal album than 2017’s grand and nihilistic social satire, Pure Comedy.
In comparison, Tillman’s most recent album is stripped down and introspective, focusing mostly on his mental state. Rather than being concerned with the breakdown of society, Tillman is concerned about the breakdown of his marriage. Most of the album was written in a two month long period during which Tillman lived in a hotel, suffering through a life crisis rife with marital issues. The record is full of heartache, self-abuse, and self-loathing. Despite all of this, the album possibly shines brightest in its moments of wry humor.
Nowhere is this humor on better display than on the lead single, “Mr. Tillman”. The singer-songwriter flips perspective and the narrator becomes the hotel concierge struggling to deal with Tillman’s alcohol fueled antics as he lives through his mental crisis. The lyrics are witty and sarcastic, and the melody is an upbeat mix of piano and guitar. This lyricism is displayed well by the verse:
Mr. Tillman, for the seventh time
We have no knowledge of a film that is being shot outside
Those aren’t extras in a movie; they’re our clientele
No, they aren’t running lines and they aren’t exactly thrilled
The song is tremendously catchy, and reminiscent of Foster the People’s “Pumped up Kicks”. You find yourself singing along despite the dark subject matter.
“Mr. Tillman” is preceded on the album by the bombastic opener, “Hangout at the Gallows”. The production of this song is solid and the chorus explodes wonderfully. The lyrics are cryptic yet poignant, best exemplified by the the line: “So you wanna hang out at the gallows? Those guys get an early start”. This line could be interpreted as an invitation to hang themselves together, an indication of
Father John Misty’s deteriorating mental state and suicidal tendencies. On the other hand, the lyric could be thought of as an invitation to watch people be hung, and, by others’ misfortune, make himself feel better.
The third song, “Just Dumb Enough to Try” is one of the weaker songs on the album. It’s a standard pop-ballad in which Tillman struggles to truly and deeply understand his wife and love itself. The song is followed up by another one of the highlights of the record, “Date Night”. This track is short and fun with a punchy percussion and frantic piano. The lyrics are witty and highlight the sleazy and arrogant characteristics of Tillman’s Father John Misty character. The accompanying music video is trippy.
“Date Night” is followed up by the sad and heavy ballad, “Please Don’t Die”, in which Tillman seriously acknowledges his depression and attempts to self-medicate through substance abuse. This contrasts “Mr. Tillman”, in which the songwriter jokes about his issues. The chorus, written from the point of view of Tillman’s wife, is especially hard-hitting, as she expresses her worry and pleads with him not to die. Tillman continues the themes of depression and substance-abuse in the next track, “The Palace”. However, the song ends on a happier note, describing someone who acknowledges his own mental issues and who is ready to seek help. The second single off the album, “Disappointing Diamonds Are the Rarest of Them All” is a short and whimsical commentary on people’s tendency to compare their own ordinary and mundane relationships to an ideal portrayed by media.
The title track is Father John Misty at his most vulnerable. The track tells the story of a suffering Misty, isolated from his wife and his family, with no one to turn to for help but religion. On past records, Tillman has been very vocal about his disdain for religion, an opinion shaped by his evangelical upbringing. Misty is in such a dark place that he ultimately turns to a God he doesn’t even believe in for comfort. “The Songwriter” is a slow piano song in which Tillman muses a hypothetical situation in which his wife was the one using their relationship as source material, and whether his use of the relationship in his work has negatively impacted it. The final track, “We’re Only People (And There’s Not Much Anyone Can Do About That)”, is a fitting end to the album. It displays a Misty reflective about his breakdown and how it has changed him. He has become more empathetic and appreciative of the of the people in his life. The track is a nice positive end to an otherwise pessimistic record.
God’s Favorite Customer is definitely front-loaded. Most of the stand-out songs are a part of the first five tracks. The first-half is more musically interesting and features more of Tillman’s trademark humor, while the second-half is slow and at times a slog. If you are the type of person to listen to music solely for the instrumental, this may not be the record for you, as much of what makes it special is the lyrical content. Nonetheless, the album is enjoyable, thought-provoking and can make you truly reflect upon your own life.
Article By: Kyle Thakker