Former Fleet Foxes' man's latest album is humorous, confessional and full of "deranged schmaltz"
Josh Tillman might look like a hipster Jesus, but he’s more very naughty boy than Messiah. Resurrecting himself, so to speak, as Father John Misty in 2012, the solo songwriter and one-time Fleet Foxes drummer cut what was the best record of his career in ‘Fear Fun’, an exuberantly self-loathing, druggy affair which reinvented its author as a kind of fucked-up ladies’ man.
Now he’s back with ‘I Love You, Honeybear’, a self-described “concept record about a guy called Josh Tillman”, which is a terminal smartarse’s way of saying it’s a confessional – and what a revelation it turns out to be.
Written around the time Tillman got hitched to this girlfriend, it’s a hugely ambitious, caustically funny album about the redemptive possibilities of love, and being heartily sick of your own bullshit. Songs like ‘The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apartment’ (“I love the kind of woman who can walk over a man/I mean like a goddamn marching band”) and ‘The Ideal Husband’ suggest a man whose soul needs, if not exactly saving, then at the very least putting through a high-temperature wash.
Tillman envisioned creating a “massive deranged schmaltz” for this record, and on the richly orchestrated title track and Harry Nilsson-esque ‘Nothing Good Ever Happens At The Goddamn Thirsty Crow’, the ambition pays off beautifully. But he saves the best for a piano ballad, previous single ‘Bored In The USA’, which undercuts the lyric’s narcissism (“Is this the part where I get all I ever wanted?”) with a canned-laughter track – an exquisite touch, and a song Randy Newman would kill to have written, you suspect.
What saves our narrator is – you guessed it – the love of a good woman, and closer ‘I Went To The Store One Day’ finds him finally flirting with happiness, a concept the “aimless, fake drifter” in him always figured was for squares (“For love to find us of all people/I never thought it’d be so simple”).
Sometimes, it seems, the best way to grow is to admit you were an asshole all along.