In one glorious package.
In one glorious package.
Fear Fun, a great little nugget of psychedelic pop, established the character of Father John Misty: a dissipated lady’s man, a snide drunk who may or may not have a heart of gold, who spends his time getting debauched in and around a vicious satirical caricature of Los Angeles. The man behind the character, former Fleet Foxes drummer/harmonizer Josh Tillman, thought him up while high on mushrooms and altitude – of course, the fact that his eponymous solo albums had gone absolutely nowhere probably played a role in Father John’s creation as well. There’s always been a hazy border between who Tillman is and who Father John Misty is; the border got even hazier last year when Tillman announced that his second FJM album, I Love You, Honeybear, was “a concept album about a guy named Josh Tillman who spends quite a bit of time banging his head against walls, cultivating weak ties with strangers and generally avoiding intimacy at all costs. This all serves to fuel a version of himself that his self-loathing narcissism can deal with. We see him engaging in all manner of regrettable behavior.”
Even a cursory scan of the lyrics for I Love You, Honeybear will reveal that, given the themes of finding lasting love despite running away from intimacy whenever possible, Tillman is playing himself on a lot of these songs. He recently married photographer Emma Tillman, and it’s telling that the very first line of the impassioned “Chateau Lobby #4 (In C For Two Virgins)” is in reference to her: “Emma eats bread and butter like a queen would eat ostrich and cobra wine”. “When You’re Smiling And Astride Me” carries on, briefly abandoning the wink and smirk of his narrative voice for a bare confession: “I can hardly believe I’ve found you and I’m terrified by that”. “Holy Shit” was written on his wedding day in an attempt to capture the craziness that was going on, and “I Went To The Store One Day” recounts the story of how they met, in the parking lot at the Laurel Canyon Store; he sketches out his vision of how they’ll grow old together, their life path entwined, and then brings it right back to the very moment they met. It’s wide-open sentimentality, a move that would seem schmaltzy if anyone else tried it; in Tillman’s hands, it’s powerful stuff, sure to make you go seek out the hands of the one you love so that you can refuse to ever let them go again.
Of course, it’s not all wide-eyed, long-lasting love on display here. The wasted lothario of Fear Fun shows up in spades, and when he does the results are always blackly hilarious. The face-palming one night stand of “The Night Josh Tillman Came To My Apt.” is easily the most caustic of these, featuring lines like “She says, like literally, music is the air she breathes / and the malaprops make me want to fucking scream / I wonder if she even knows what that word means / Well, it’s literally not that” and ends up with Tillman being more than obliging when she gets freaky in bed later and asks to be choked. “Strange Encounter” finds him panicking when another girl nearly dies in his house (presumably after hoovering up all of his drugs, like the girl in “The Night Josh Tillman Cam To My Apt.”) and ends with a bit of defensive petulance, “Yeah, I’m a decent person / little aimless”. “Nothing Good Ever Happens At The Goddamn Thirsty Crow” and “The Ideal Husband” bring out the belligerently drunk side of FJM; the former finds him savagely moving on a man trying to pick up his girlfriend, while the latter finds him crawling over every fault he can find in his own self-loathing before bursting in at seven in the morning blathering about subcumbing and wanting to knock the girl up. The height of this particular side of the album, of course, is lead single “Bored In The USA”, a stately, traditionally arranged piano ballad that spends four minutes skewering both the American Dream and the idea that two people could ever grow old together in the same passion that fuelled their youth. “Now, I’ve got a lifetime to consider all the ways / I’ve grown more disappointing to you as my beauty warps and fades / I suspect you feel the same” he says, and it’s hard not to think of it as a corollary to the sentiments he expresses in the title track, where the world is ending but he doesn’t care because he has love, and damn everything else. Once the initial intensity fades, what do you have left?
It’s that naked dichotomy – we can grow old together and we can never escape ourselves enough to grow old together – that gives I Love You, Honeybear its impetus. Even without the concept it succeeds as an admirably written collection of songs, but the concept brings it into the realm of being a modern classic. As a sophomore effort it’s leaps and bounds beyond the simpler, more rootsier Fear Fun, and despite the earliness of the calendar it’s a strong contender for album of the year.