Like anything that comes out of the mouth of Father John Misty -- the hipster gadfly persona Josh Tillman adopted after leaving the Fleet Foxes in 2012 -- it can be difficult to discern whether the title of Pure Comedy is intended sincerely. Father John Misty cherishes his public role as a prankster, a stance that can sometimes seem at odds with his grand artistic ambitions. And, make no mistake about it, Pure Comedy is indeed a very grand record, an old-fashioned major statement designed to evoke memories of classic long-players from the '70s. Often, its stately march and decorated pianos call to mind early Elton John, suggesting the hazy vistas of Madman Across the Water. This shift toward progressive pop underscores how Father John Misty has streamlined his music since I Love You, Honeybear, whittling away the minor feints toward modern music and stripping away lingering rustic folk influences. He's now a postmodern troubadour, halfway between a song poet and a baroque craftsman. Where his antecedents (and clear influences) Leonard Cohen and Randy Newman sculpted their music and words, Tillman isn't quite so restrained. He's a maximalist, overstuffing his lyrics with florid imagery and letting his songs spill out at lengths up to 13 minutes. From a certain angle, all this can play like an elaborate stunt -- particularly when he baits the listener with lines about "bedding Taylor Swift" -- but there's a strong melancholy undercurrent to Pure Comedy that suggests Father John Misty is something more than a jester. All of this can be felt through the music itself -- through the melodies and movement, through the arrangement and production -- and that, more than the verbal gymnastics, is why Pure Comedy delivers upon much of Father John Misty's outlandish promises.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine