Sunday 14 May 2017

Review of 'Pure Comedy' by Father John Misty

Father John Misty hates the world and humanity. And he’s written some pretty piano ballads about it.

A bit of bitter misanthropy now and again can be entertaining – especially in these troubled times of Trump and terrorism and technology addiction. Pure Comedy is certainly an album designed for the here and now, whilst also looking pessimistically into the future. Preview singles suggested Pure Comedy would be anything but comical, and whilst there is a lot of sombre doomsaying to be found here, there are some relieving moments of humour such as opening lines about bedding Taylor Swift every night on an Oculus Rift (‘Total Entertainment Forever’) or, on a more dark note, stealing bedsheets from an amputee to pass off as art (‘The Memo’). But are these moments of amusement enough to offset the depressive philosophising being forced on the listener throughout. 

I enjoyed the cynicism of Josh's last album I Love you, Honeybear even if I couldn’t relate to it, which seemed to explore love and being in a relationship in the most negative light possible. Pure Comedy is even harder to relate to as it’s about viewing humanity in the most negative light possible and you can’t help but feel Josh is a bit of narcissist for the way in which he places himself above it all (and I’m aware that he directly references ‘Narcissus’ on ‘The Memo’ – an inspiration perhaps?).

The entertainment value is further damaged by the fact that not all of these Elton-John-esque epics are particularly engaging musically. There are some moments of magic such as floating beauty ‘Birdie’ and woozy waltz ‘A Bigger Paper Bag’, but other songs like ‘Leaving LA’ are a ten minute slog of wishy-washy guitar strums and airy strings.  

Indeed, that Mount Eerie project that I recently reviewed and loved was arguably ten times more depressing lyrically and even less exciting instrumentally, but it came from a deep personal place. Here, the artist has detached himself from the gloom around him, but without using the guise of a character, which made his last record gratifying. It’s the unfiltered musings of a misery guts, which I myself find difficult to digest – although others may lap it up.

That said, even if I can’t get behind his bleak world view, there’s no denying how impressive the poetry of some of the lyrics is. The opening track alone offers such witty lines as ‘The comedy of man starts like this/ our brains are way too big for our mothers hips’ and ‘their idea of being free is a prison of beliefs/ that they never have to leave’. Objectively speaking, he’s a hot-headed genius. Subjectively speaking, he’s a cold-blooded sourpuss. Together with tepid instrumentation, it’s a lukewarm listen.