Quite frankly, a masterpiece of an album.
With his fourth album under the Father John Misty moniker, Josh Tillman slowly moves away from the caustic, cynical-yet-hilarious-yet-meaningful, imagery-and-metaphor-laden baroque pop of his past records to slightly less metaphor-laden baroque pop songs that deal far more explicitly with the themes they concern themselves with. While on past albums he may have sung about virtual-reality sex with Taylor Swift (‘Total Entertainment Forever’), or “Mascara, blood, ash and cum/ On the Rorschach sheets where we make love” (‘I Love You, Honeybear’), or even how his “reality is realer than yours” (‘I’m Writing a Novel’), here he sings frankly and openly about feeling alone, his suicidal thoughts, and how much he loves his wife. God’s Favorite Customer is, ironically given the title, Tillman’s most humble and human album yet. In an interview with Uncut, Tillman described the album as “the real I Love You, Honeybear but without the cynicism.” A fitting descriptor since I Love You, Honeybear was, at its simplest, a honeymoon love album for his wife that was veiled and cloaked in double-speak, cynicism, punchlines, and filth. Unlike I Love You, Honeybear, God’s Favorite Customer finds itself roaming hotel hallways, bedrooms, and lobbies. Written over a six week period, during two months where he was living in a hotel, the album moves around the hotel grounds and through various viewpoints around the hotel. The liner notes of the album give the alternative title of the sarcastic “Mr. Tillman’s Wild Ride,” a title that somehow manages to sound even more cynical and out-of-touch than God’s Favorite Customer upon having listened to the album.
Opening in Tillman’s hotel room, where he is unable to sleep, the album’s opener, ‘Hangout at the Gallows’ introduces Tillman’s suicidal thoughts gently into the mix when he compares his insomnia (“Find you waking in the morning/ Always there to grieve the dawn/ Trouble sleeping/ My alarm goes off”) to his suicidal thoughts (“So you wanna hang out at the gallows?/ Those guys get an early start”). He also finds time to bemoan the futility of the boxes that humanity forces themselves inside, of their own will, when he asks “What’s your politics?/ What’s your religion?/ What’s your intake?” One’s political affiliation and religion get put alongside the human intake (of whatever sort: drugs, alcohol, food, or culture) that drives people through their lives. All of them get lumped in together and minimized as Misty then asks for a clarification as to what is “your reason for living?” With the following track, ‘Mr. Tillman’, the hotel clearly materializes for the listener as the song’s protagonist, an unnamed hotel clerk or employee, follows Misty’s on his misadventures around the hotel. The most obviously comic track on the album, the comedy also delivers a sobering image of Tillman’s life in the hotel. The employee discusses Tillman leaving a mattress in the rain and his passport in the mini fridge, the face tattoo of his friend from the previous night, and reassures him that the people in the hotel are not extras in a film. Tillman then responds in the chorus with a clearly delusional “I’m feeling good, damn, I’m feeling so fine/ I’m living on a cloud above an island in my mind/ Oh baby, don’t be alarmed this is just my vibe.” It’s an easy-going song musically, full of restraint, much like the hotel employee who, throughout, maintains a professional and polite demeanour. Along with ‘The Palace’ and ‘Disappointing Diamonds Are the Rarest of Them All,’ ‘Mr. Tillman’ is one of the few tracks on the album that holds on to the absurdity and humour found throughout past Father John Misty releases.
‘Disappointing Diamonds Are the Rarest of Them All’ and ‘Mr. Tillman’ also happen to be some of the standout tracks on the album, alongside the more honest and upfront ‘Please Don’t Die,’ ‘The Songwriter,’ and ‘Just Dumb Enough To Try.’ To be fair, the album is full of standout, gorgeous, sentimental, and fun tracks that fail to lose their charm. There is enough diversity throughout the album, stylistically and lyrically, to keep the listening experience consistently wonderful and the listener never finds themselves drifting into monotony. ‘Please Don’t Die,’ however, is a particular standout. It moves back and forth between Tillman’s, and wife Emma Elizabeth Tillman’s, mind. describes living by himself in a hotel, “One more wasted morning/ When I could be holding you/ To my side, somebody stop this joyless joy ride.” As he goes deeper into his mind and his depression he starts to openly and loudly talk about ending it all, “Oh god, you must have woken up/ To me saying that it’s all too much/ I’ll take it easy with the morbid stuff.” Emma Elizabeth Tillman responds in the chorus with a plea for him to understand her own point of view – “honey, I’m worried ’bout you/ Put yourself in my shoes/ You’re all that I have so please don’t die/ Wherever you are tonight.” With the “honey” of the chorus also comes a gorgeous jump into a falsetto from Tillman that forces the words to cut deep into the listener’s mind. ‘Just Dumb Enough To Try’ finds Tillman jumping back and forth between boasting about his abilities as a singer and performer and songwriter (“I know my way ’round a tune/ Won’t be a single dry eye in a room”) and admitting his own shortcomings but wanting to nonetheless keep his love in his life (“But I’m just dumb enough to try/ To keep you in my life/ For a little while longer”). ‘Disappointing Diamonds Are the Rarest of Them All’ deals with Tillman’s dislike for what he sees as the overtly pretty and romanticized idea of love (“a love that lasts forever really can’t be that special/ Sure we know our roles, and how it’s supposed to go/ Does everybody have to be the greatest story ever told?), all while professing his love for his wife in his own unique way (“Like a carcass left out in the heat/ This love is bursting out of me). ‘The Songwriter’ has Tillman genuinely asking his wife, “What would it sound like if you were the songwriter/ And you made your living off of me?/ Would you detail your near-constant consternation?/ Or the way my very presence makes your muses up and flee?” It’s a guilt-laden track in which Tillman refuses to wallow in his guilt but instead lays out his ‘crimes’ as a songwriter who uses his wife as a muse for his music and lyrics (“would you undress me repeatedly in public/ To show how very noble and naked you can be?”). He lays out his own hypocrisy and mocks himself but brings it together in the end when he sings “What would it sound like if you were the songwriter/ And loving me was your unsung masterpiece?” There is plenty that Tillman has, that he thinks, that he feels, that he doesn’t sing or put out for his audience, even though it would be his masterpiece, because he simply loves her too much.
God’s Favorite Customer is a drunken, depressed album about love and heartbreak that bounces along and showcases all of Tillman’s quirks and flaws as a human and as a songwriter. It also showcases his ability to craft great songs, with great music and lyrics, and remain uniquely himself even when he strikes out on a different path. It’s, quite frankly, a masterpiece of an album.
An edited copy of this review can be found at https://giglist.com/album-review-father-john-misty-gods-favorite-customer