25 Jan 2017

Father John Misty / Pure Comedy (single review)

Depending on who you ask, in the last five years Father John Misty has either gone from strength to strength, or from twee folk shaman to pretentiously insufferable (insufferably pretentious) soothsayer of farty millennial nonsense. I quite like him. I also like the trajectory of his music; from the baroque-pop-with-an-edge attempts of 2012's Fear Fun, to the romance-album-with-an-edge stylings of 2015's I Love You, Honeybear. He remains, in my opinion, the only artist who can fit the lyric "mascara, blood, ash and come, on the Rorschach sheets where we make love" in a piece of orchestral, twinkly, heartfelt balladry and not make you want to hit him.

His most recent single, Pure Comedy, sees him outdo himself in the Father John Misty-ness of it all (if we accept his name as a sort of brand/genre now), a six and a half minute long, piano-led ballad, lamenting the state of the world from the objective viewpoint of an inquisitive alien (who happens to have FJM's exact sensibilities; think an angrier Ziggy). It makes the shock-nihilist croonings of Honeybear seem straightforward.

It's clearly a political song; references to the "goons" we choose to rule us abide, and Misty's disdain for religion is given a great deal of airtime ("and they get terribly upset/when you question their sacred texts/written by woman-hating epileptics", he sings at the halfway point). But it's political in that trademark FJM way, AKA in a way that draws a great deal of attention to just how verbose and eloquent and out there he is, man, and if you don't get it, you're just indoctrinated in tiny bourgeois boxes (or something).

That's enough of me being neutral about Misty's obnoxious persona; I fucking love this track. I can't get enough of it. The way it builds and builds, starting out like some kind of Elton John piece, building into a rushing crescendo before a deeply felt final burst of lyric and song that doesn't sound pained, or even amused, just exalted, as if Misty has been trying to convey this message precisely for years, and has only just got it right.

It's also a track that, despite it's immediate and obvious structure, has so many little surprises and tweaks in the production that go by unnoticed on the first two listens; the echo of the piano; the swirling of what we can only assume is Alien Misty's spaceship; the swelling of some kind of intergalactic wind; the bleep of a dashboard. And, lyrically, Misty outdoes himself. The concept alone is some real third-album stuff (seriously, a treatise about mankind told from the position of an alien could fall on its face in so many ways), but Misty strikes just the right note of horror and bemusement.

The take home message is that life is crumby, terrible, but you need to detach yourself from it or else it will drive you mad; "pure comedy! It's like something that a madman would conceive", he explodes at the end. It's enough to make you sit back and just think, for a second, about our convictions, our passions, our anger, our blind follies, and how that, more than anything else we might blame, has led to the state of the world today.

It ends on a note of begrudging hope ("I hate to say it/but each other's all we've got"), as if to say that we can still turn things around before they get much worse, but also; it sure as hell makes you excited for the rest of the album.

(Words: Declan Cochran)