Cliché has it that times of strife – of political turmoil, depression and recession and, yes, the advent of fake news – at least makes for great art.
Nobody really thought Donald Trump would become President of the United States – it wasn’t meant to happen. Yet the master of misdirection prevailed with a campaign that offered a promise of the past. No-one’s quite sure when America stopped being great, but they think it might have something to do with globalisation. So, like Cher, Trump has vowed to turn back time, to re-open the factories no-one needs, to restore the jobs long since shipped overseas. His America is a mirage, of course. You can’t scroll back through history like a Twitter feed. But 62 million people voted for the mirage, so the world will march towards it together.
No, it doesn’t make sense. And that’s what ‘Pure Comedy’, the lush new piano-led track from Father John Misty, is all about. Over plaintive keys, he catalogues the horrors and ironies of 21st Century life, the endless madness of it all, the “horror show” that has seen the world’s first black President usher in the world’s first white supremacist President. Along the way he shakes his head in amazement at organised religion, gender inequality, laughing bitterly.
Some choice lines, then. On religion: “They worship themselves, yet they’re totally obsessed / With risen zombies, celestial virgins, magic tricks, these unbelievable outfits / And they get terribly upset when you get you question their sacred texts / Written by some woman-hating apoplectics.” On politicians of – at best – dubious qualification: “Where do they find these goons they elected to rule them? / What makes these clowns they idolise so remarkable? / These mammals are hell-bent on fashioning new gods / So they can go on being godless animals.”
There is almost no tune to ‘Pure Comedy’; the track unspools messily, all fitful percussion, rolling keys, the funereal march of the horn section in the final third. The video overlays the song’s gentle sounds with footage of natural disasters, Donald Trump (an unnatural disaster), middle America and Father John’s meltdown onstage at XPN festival in Philadelphia last year. Arcade Fire’s addition to the recent cannon of Trump protest songs was one of steely resolve. This is black comedy, one with an evil sense of humour.
The track concludes on an ambiguous note, with the line: “I hate to say it / But each other’s all we’ve got.” Is that… a good thing? Hold on to your hats, we have four years to find out.