From sombre singer-songwriter through to perky freak-folk wanderer, and now a sassy amalgam of US shock-comic Louis CK and singer Warren Zevon in a silk smoking jacket – or, in his own words, a “sarcastic Michael Bublé” – the evolution of Joshua Tillman has been an enthralling one. His third album under the Father John Misty name, following a string of solemn, self-titled solo albums, ‘Pure Comedy’ is a powerful piece of work, but one that will leave you with as many questions as it does answers.
Musically, we’re on pretty familiar territory; a little soulful Jackson Browne, a smidge of acoustic Neil Young and even a touch of piano-tinkling Elton John, as well as a gospel choir thrown into the mix, but this is
a record that sets itself apart by virtue of its lyrics. Looking at the ludicrous, often baffling thing that is humanity and our place in the universe, we open with the title track, with the LA-based Tillman laying his cards on the table and amusingly picking apart the “comedy of man” to a sweeping Broadway-worthy show tune.
ather johnohnA grandiloquent shrug at the state of the world over the epic course of 13 tracks and 75 minutes, it’s Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’ as directed by Lena Dunham. Here, the references run from high to lowbrow, taking in everything from Taylor Swift and VR porn (‘Total Entertainment Forever’) to Thomas Mann’s weighty 1924 philosophical allegory The Magic Mountain (‘So I’m Growing Old On Magic Mountain’), irony-drenched sideswipes at commodification and consumerism (‘The Memo’) and musings on mortality (‘Ballad Of The Dying Man’).
Not even Father John Misty himself is safe from scrutiny, as the 13-minute, string-laden ‘Leaving LA’ puts his own story under the microscope in meticulously meta detail. He even acknowledges his outré public persona on ‘A Bigger Paper Bag’, crooning, “I’ve got the world by the balls / Am I supposed to behave?” But tucked away in the middle of the album sits perhaps the finest song Tillman has written to date. The elegiac ‘When The God of Love Returns There’ll Be Hell To Pay’ is the perfect fusion of heart-melting melody and contemplative lyricism, setting him apart as one of the greatest modern songwriters we have. Nice one, dad.