Promoting the third record with a string of leaked singles and television performances too unwieldly for the 55+ crowd, perennial songsmith and otherwise colossal prick Josh Tillman releases a dual-LP full of material he’s been sitting on since he was resigned to the back of Robin Pecknold’s drum kit. The result – Pure Comedy – 14 tracks of unassailable songwriting that aligns with a generation of ingenue and weekend festival social justice warriors.
Ditching the Rasputin garb for something more tastefully Captain Beefheart, Tillman slyly reveals the evolution of Father John Misty, leaning into a less distressed persona to match the ever-changing whims of his fans and devotees-cum-critics. The title track alone presents itself to be torn apart by savage naysayers of his decidedly un-Honeybear zest. By taking the bait, Pure Comedy finds instant footing. By offering bait, Tillman keeps himself off Sirius XM generated channels for one album more.
A strangely reverent nod to the mythos of double albums, Pure Comedy is a relatively low impact session. “So I’m Growing Old on Magic Mountain” offers a 10-minute Nashville Dylan era experience, a motif detected several times throughout the record. But don’t be fooled – the virtual-reality Taylor Swift name-dropping “Total Entertainment Forever” ain’t that dense or conscious. In fact, Tillman even sounds like he’s enjoying himself.
It’s useless to compare the songwriting to Dylan, Newman, Simon and the cavalcade of politically charged songsters that defined the period of Christgau rock. Pure Comedy isn’t a prescient attack on Trump, nor is it some languid critique on the pop world. Tillman loves employing Father John Misty as a vehicle to help immerse himself in the uncool culture of popularity in order to form music more astute and more easily merged with his seraphic voice.
Caterwauling about Tillman’s idiosyncrasies only goes so far. Pure Comedy is an undeniable sleeper masterwork that will alongside Tillman’s frequent to daily admissions of LSD. No folk heroism, no cumbersome layers of thematic rambling, no real pretension. One’s admiration or tepid acceptance of Father John Misty will greatly enhance the listening experience. Embrace the record and find a suitably similar release to what is generally canonized as required listening. Listen begrudgingly and still find an even-keeling romance to the medium of the full-length album.