Trying to explain Father John Misty to someone who doesn’t know him usually results in a confused, resigned, ‘okay.’ This, because much of the appeal of the man born Joshua Tillman lies in his relentless, self-mythologizing narcissism. This has coalesced into three previous albums, 2012’s Fear Fun, 2015’s I Love You, Honeybear, a grand overture to his wife, and 2017’s Pure Comedy. That last record was given over to all the excesses of the FJM persona, a buffet of social commentary and ego digging delivered in lavish, indulgent fashion. His latest, God’s Favourite Customer, is the total opposite of its predecessor. Misty is as focused on himself as he’s ever been, but now he’s turning inwards, looking for salvation.
There’s nothing like the 13-minute chorus-less diatribe ‘Leaving LA’ on this record. Here Misty is economical in both lyrics and production. Largely produced by himself along with his friend Jonathan Rado. Sure, Mark Ronson plays bass on ‘Disappointing Diamonds are the Rarest of Them All,’ but outside of a few glam sounds and glockenspiels throughout, it’s all simple arrangements, subdued drum kits and quiet piano ballads. Now, more than ever, all this self-examination of Tillman’s psyche better be worth it.
If you were turned off by Misty’s previous releases, this isn’t going to be the record that makes you a believer. At a tight 38 minutes, it may be remembered as the palate cleanser after Pure Comedy, but it’s quite a bit more than that. Where in previous records Misty would be writing from the all-knowing yet simultaneously bewildered perspective of God, here he’s writing from the point of view of a bemused hotel concierge as the titular ‘Mr. Tillman’ trashes the hotel in a drunken, pitying haze. In a way, he continues his mythologizing by stripping it away.
Songs like ‘Please Don’t Die’ and ‘We’re Only People (And There’s Not Much Anyone Can Do About That)’ are moments of profound loneliness in the Misty canon. There’s no greater meaning, no clever wink at the audience or meta postmodern trickery, it’s just him in all his bared earnestness. At least until the next record.
With most of these tracks, there is no pretext. God’s Favourite Customer is Misty finally tackling his ego head-on, four albums into its supposed ascension. On ‘The Songwriter’ he explores the dichotomy between the inherent selfishness of artistry with his love for his wife and muse. It’s a delicate balance between destruction and growth that he hopes to reconcile by being there for his wife.
Apparently written over six weeks in which he holed himself up in a hotel with booze and drugs, Misty’s resulting album could have just been another footnote in the Path of the Rock Star. In some ways that’s true, and in others, he blows past this to create something that at least now, stands as a real continuation of his previous work and not an anomaly. The condescending commentary of the previous records has faded away for an album about love – for himself, for his wife, for his art.