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30 from 17: Father John Misty's Pure Comedy Isn't Always But is Often

Pure Comedy is strong on self-analysis, well isn't it ever?

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by Jason Lewis, UK Music Editor for outsideleft.com
originally published: December, 2017
A challenging 74 minutes

3017#28
Father John Misty
Pure Comedy
(Sub Pop)


Well, this is the number one album of the year in The Times, but we do things differently here!  I'd rather be hypnotized by the album at number 27 (which is gonna be with you in two shakes of a lamb's tail, or something...)

Anyone expecting another chapter of  the Father John Misty romantic confessional that made 2015's I Love You Honey Bear, such an engaging listen,  should look away now. 

Within the first five minutes of Josh Tillman's latest outing as Father John Misty he manages to cram in his theories on the 'miracle' of childbirth, the roles apportioned to men and women in childcare, his condemnation of multinational corporations, US politics and organised religion.   This is all in a song is called 'Pure Comedy' and Josh's personal brand of humour is a dark and extremely caustic one.

Tillman doesn't hide from being controversial either. The single 'Total Entertainment Forever'  speculates on how society debases technology by opening with the line 'Bedding Taylor Swift, every night inside the Oculus Rift', imaging a future where the pop star is turned into a virtual reality sex toy.  There's a further stab at our misuse of technology in Ballad of Dying Man, which pillories a character so obsessed with social media that he needs to 'check his news feed' before he takes his final breath.  

Tillman is aware of how his shift in perspective may be met by the public, on the sombre 13 minute Leaving LA he takes on the voice of a former fan:

"I used to like this guy (but)
This new shit really kinda makes me wanna die"

Throughout the songs 10 verses (no choruses), Tillman ridicules himself, deriding the character that he has created.  This would sound indulgent and self pitying in other hands but Tillman delivers his story with self deprecating humour, together with a sympathetic arrangement (French horns, cello, violins), that makes it such a compelling listen.  

The self analysis of the Misty persona continues on A Bigger Paper Bag where he confesses: I've got the world by the balls! Am I supposed to behave? Startlingly, he does this without ever sounding obnoxious.  But his broadest attack on the music industry comes with The Memo:  'Here at the cultural low watermark, if it's fraud or art, They'll pay you to believe'. Only here does he start to sound sanctimonious.

At a challenging 74 minutes, Pure Comedy can be an exhausting album to get through, but the mastery of his songwriting, matched by the subtle arrangements, make Pure Comedy an insightful, sardonic and frequently hilarious album.

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Jason Lewis
UK Music Editor

Jason Lewis is a Birmingham based music, movie and arts obsessive. Jason's encyclopedic knowledge of 80s/90s Arts films is a debt to his embedded status in the Triangle Arts Centre trenches back then.

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