The party is over and the guests have departed; light is streaming, streaming through the curtains, and there’s no one, no one at home. All except your not-so-humble narrator, ‘God’s Favorite Customer’ himself, and he’s not quite sure what happened either.
If 2015’s ‘I Love You Honeybear’ felt like an endless embrace of love, lust, and ego, and follow up ‘Pure Comedy’ embarked on an ambitious probing of the human condition in the post-truth era, then Father John Misty’s latest effort feels like the aftermath; all stumbled reminiscence, a tongue that tastes of bourbon cocktails and cigarettes attempting to garble through the events of the night before, except the words – unexpectedly – just won’t come.
‘Pure Comedy’ dazzled in its complexity, whereas ‘God’s Favourite Customer’ shocks in its simplicity, a concerted back-to-basics effort drawn up over two months in a New York hotel room that operates within a far smaller, more concise, and at times more claustrophobic palette than before. That soft-rock sound is still in place – from the dogged harmonica of ‘Please Don’t Die’ to the tumbling piano of the title track – but it feels inverted, reflecting a much darker, more solemn mood.
Things aren’t right, we learn. Endlessly restless, ‘God’s Favourite Customer’ primarily takes place in hotel rooms and receptions, checking in and checking out in a transitory environment, one without love, comfort or roots. He’s lost, without hope of getting back; ‘The Palace’ opens with a speed delivery, but ends: “Last night I texted your iPhone, said ‘I’m ready to come home’ / I’m in over my head, I’m in over my head…”
If ‘…Honeybear’ was sexually luminescent then ‘God’s Favourite Customer’ is dogged by impotence and separation, unfulfilled lust that collapses into self-loathing. ‘Disappointing Diamonds Are The Rarest Of Them All’ he croons on the album’s centrepiece, before adding with a swipe: “The loves that lasts forever really can’t be that special…” Before, we were invited to join the lines in an eternally seductive parade; now the lines have been broken, and the endless divide is all we can see. Misty’s mind is manic, flitting from topic to topic, but always fixated on what he’s lost. If love is the drug then this is the withdrawal.
Still, though, he continues. The title song focuses on the desire to be loved, and to love in turn, with Misty focusing on simple truths, on the bottom line, before singing: “I’m in the business of living, yeah, that’s something I’d say…” ‘The Songwriter’ inverts the roles of the relationship, with Josh Tillman fixating on the importance of being there for someone, how damaging it can be when they disappear; and ultimately if Misty himself could take that secondary role, understanding and appreciating another perspective.
It’s not all navel-gazing profundity, though; ‘God’s Favourite Customer’ boasts more than it’s fair share of off-the-cuff humour, the kind of shoulder-shrug genius only Father John Misty can provide. ‘The Palace’ revels in these shifts of mood, culminating in the wonderfully self-deprecating: “Last night I wrote a poem, man I must have been in the poem zone…”
Pain and suffering pass, we learn, while individuality is something to be both feared and cherished, Father John Misty’s chief accomplishment, but also his burden. It’s a solitude both heroic and hateful, with closer ‘We’re Only People (And There’s Not Much Anyone Can Do About That)’ offering an urge towards communion that opens in lush soft-rock bedlam before ending only with Tilmann’s voice, cracking with the weight of it all. “I think the end of it all may look a lot like the beginning,” he muses, before adding: “Why not me? Why not you? Why not now?”
It’s a record riddled with questions, while refusing to offer answers. In remaining tight-lipped, this taciturn new aspect to Father John Misty might be his most genuinely sincere, and his most profound.