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REVIEW: Father John Misty – ‘God’s Favorite Customer’ (Bella Union)

“I’ll take it easy with the morbid stuff”, promises Josh Tillman on ‘Please Don’t Die’. However, don’t be fooled – his latest Father John Misty album God’s Favorite Customer is full of broken promises, broken hearts, and a broken narrator. The publicity for this fourth album under the Father John Misty moniker has been minimal, and the imagery stripped back in comparison to last year’s hectic and heavily plugged Pure Comedy, the cover art reduced to a simple photograph of the man looking smart, clean, but deeply fed up. This is at the heart of God’s Favorite Customer, an album full of contrasts, contradictions, wild antics and crushing comedowns.

Josh Tillman’s albums trace the development of the Father John Misty character. Fear Fun and I Love You, Honeybear featured a lovestruck FJM, whilst Pure Comedy found him shaking his fist at the world and all its evils. That’s what makes God’s Favorite Customer so strange. It blurs the line between FJM and Josh Tillman, the fictional character seeping into the creator’s persona, and vice-versa. On ‘The Songwriter’, FJM wonders “what would it sound like if you were the songwriter and you made your living off of me?” Elsewhere, there’s ‘Mr. Tillman’, this merging of the two results in a mind-bending role reversal, with FJM singing about Josh Tillman as though he had created the character himself – a character who causes chaos in hotels, drinks alone too much, and fools himself into thinking he’s okay. “Don’t be alarmed”, he pleads, “this is just my vibe”.

By all accounts, this reflects the life that the real Mr. Tillman was living during the writing of God’s Favorite Customer, locking himself away in a hotel room and composing the whole album in a matter of weeks. It exposes a vulnerability rarely seen in any previous Father John Misty album, frequently brutal in its emotional honesty and outlining the decline of FJM’s rock ’n’ roll dream into a prison of his own making. ‘Please Don’t Die’ contains some stark lines about “pointless benders with reptilian strangers” on his “joyless joy ride”. This self-realisation is heartbreaking at times, but is all delivered with FJM’s trademark wit and self-parody. “You can take all I know about love and drown it in a sink”, he laments on ‘Just Dumb Enough To Try’, despite having issued two whole albums full of love songs. ‘Disappointing Diamonds Are The Rarest Of Them All’ delivers the fantastic line of “like a pervert on a crowded bus… the love is bursting out of me”. This contrast between brazen ballsiness and emotional rawness is what Tillman does best with his Father John Misty persona, and on God’s Favorite Customer, it works a charm.

Whilst the lyrical evolution of God’s Favorite Customer is admirable, there are some interesting musical features on here too. The majority of the album is rooted in the folk-rock influences of his past albums, and yes, the endless piano ballads can drag sometimes. However, there’s more than enough depth to make God’s Favourite Customer an interesting listen. The title track has some nice underlying noise and feedback growling beneath the final refrain. There’s some satisfyingly fuzzy synths on ‘Hangout At The Gallows’, beneath a chord sequence that is suspiciously reminiscent of Bill Withers’ ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’, and on ‘Disappointing Diamonds…’ FJM displays a vocal range that is not often seen. Nearly all of Tillman’s vocal tracks are wrapped in his signature John Lennon–meets-Elton John doubled voice effect, which is a welcome mainstay of his sound.

God’s Favourite Customer is the sound of Father John Misty arising from the depths of a crippling hangover and finding himself alone. It is a culmination of everything he’s done so far, both romantic and angst-ridden, lovestruck and heartbroken. Whilst it is potentially the most “Josh Tillman” FJM album, it marks a new chapter in his career and features some of his best-written songs to date. (8/10) (Louis Marlow)

Listen to God’s Favorite Customer by Father John Misty here via Spotify, and tell us what you think below!

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