Two years ago, the traveling-songwriter/sex-symbol that was Father John Misty released I Love You, Honeybear, a concept album and ode to his wife that earned the Roseandblog’s pick for 2015’s Album of the Year. It was a heart-warming record from the ex-Fleet Foxes drummer that was more honest then it was pretentious, and more human then it was cheesy.
Returning with Pure Comedy, ol’ Papa Johnny’s musical style might have stayed the same, but his lyrical material hits on a whole new angle. Taking the biblical portion of his name to really stand for something, Father John Misty acts as an orating minister from some near-future dystopia. He’s not only blunt about it in fact, but he tends to throw around a lot of blame too. His satiric comments sometimes come off as judgmental, and his preachy-wisdom full of pretension. Pure Comedy doesn’t hold that same magic that I Love You, Honeybear so easily grasped, but instead turns from “here’s how I met your mother and thank god I did” to “here’s how the world’s going to end and it’s all your fault.”
The opening title-track “Pure Comedy” pretty much sets the course for the voice FJM uses throughout the record, as well as how he plans to criticize the irony of politics and certain held beliefs:
Comedy, now that’s what I call pure comedy
Just waiting until the part where they start to believe
They’re at the center of everything
And some all-powerful being endowed this horror show with meaning
Oh, their religions are the best
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 question their sacred texts
Written by woman-hating epileptics
Their languages just serve to confuse them
Their confusion somehow makes them more sure
They build fortunes poisoning their offspring
And hand out prizes when someone patents the cure
Where did they find these goons they elected to rule them?
What makes these clowns they idolize so remarkable?
These mammals are hell-bent on fashioning new gods
So they can go on being godless animals
Oh comedy, their illusions they have no choice but to believe
Their horizons that just forever recede
And how’s this for irony, their idea of being free is a prison of beliefs
That they never ever have to leave
Oh comedy, oh it’s like something that a madman would conceive!
Whether you agree with his opinions or not, it still holds the poetic quality that he had on I Love You, Honeybear, but it’s more like his song “Holy Shit” cranked up to eleven. It’s a no-holds-barred take on society, politics, and religion, and Pure Comedy isn’t for the faint of heart.
On “Pure Comedy,” FJM sees certain religious beliefs as a restriction on freedom. It’s a critique on the massive presence of religious beliefs that guide politics in America, and the contradiction between believing in certain freedoms based on your personal beliefs, but not granting the freedoms believed by others.
It’s an issue I happen to agree with—that freedoms for women, the LGBTQ community, and people of color are constantly blocked or taken away due to citing’s of religious beliefs. However, while I feel that Father John Misty makes some great points over the course of the album, the tone and language that he applies to his musings are generally focused on those that would already agree with him. I don’y want to speak for everyone else, but this record doesn’t seem like it’s going to be very eye-opening for anyone with an opposing view-point.
Nonetheless, if Father John Misty’s intent was to talk specifically to like-minded thinkers, then what does the rest of the record hold? “Total Entertainment Forever” is a critique on virtual reality and technological-escapism, a topic covered in a lot of film & T.V. recently (such as Netflix’s Black Mirror and the popular cartoon Adventure Time), and “Ballad of the Dying Man” covers socio-political news-reporting, asking: “has commentary been more lucid than anybody else?”
It’s the first time on the record where he doesn’t seem as preachy, and even acts a little self-reflective. “We leave as clueless as we came” he says, “we’ll all be wrong someday.” On the track “Leaving L.A.,” he comments mostly on himself, mocking “so reads the pull quote from my last cover piece, entitled ‘The Oldest Man in Folk Rock Speaks.'” He knows how headline-like and preachy he is on the record, which is good to see that he’s self-aware, something that continues on the track and even over the course of the record:
Mara taunts me ‘neath the tree
She’s like “Oh great, that’s just what we all need
Another white guy in 2017
Who takes himself so goddamn seriously.”
She’s not far off, the strange thing is
That’s pretty much what I thought when I started this
It took me my whole life to learn to the play the G
But the role of Oedipus was a total breeze
Still I dreamt of garnering all rave reviews
Just believably a little north of God’s own truth
“He’s a national treasure now, and here’s the proof
In the form of his major label debut”
A little less human with each release
Closing the gap between the mask and me
I swear I’ll never do this, but is it okay?
Don’t want to be that guy but it’s my birthday
If everything ends with the photo then I’m on my way
Father John Misty spotlights a contradiction of his own on this track, in which he mentions that he’s aware of how he will be perceived on this record, as well as comments on his own vanity. It’s a track that means to say “and I’m in this too.” It puts his possibly-thought-of-as “holier-than-thou” lyrics under a new light. It’s conflicting, and Pure Comedy is definitely a very weighted listen throughout. It feels more like an audio book set to song than it does an album.
What initially appears as pretentious bullshit actually becomes poignant commentary, but maybe that’s simply just because I happen to agree with most of what he has to say. The record pale’s in comparison to I Love You, Honeybear, and maybe it’s due to the tone of a sermon instead of a heartwarming story, but Pure Comedy is something that just isn’t as easily consumed.
He couldn’t have said it any better than himself when he remarks on “Leaving L.A.” that a record full of “some 10-verse chorus-less diatribe[s]” will result in reviews that say “I used to like this guy, but this new shit really kinda makes me wanna die.” As he just told NME in an interview: “I set out to be a real human. Now I’m a cartoon character… The phrase I see most often is ‘pretentious douchebag’. You can put that one on my tombstone.”