Father John Misty deconstructs everything we perceive to be normal in our modern society on his third solo album, Pure Comedy. With sarcasm, cynicism and self-awareness, Josh Tillman does his best to criticize cultural norms while poking fun at those who criticize.
"Oh great, that's just what we all need/ another white guy in 2017 who takes himself so goddam seriously," sings Tillman in the fourth verse of the album's centerpiece, "Leaving LA." He subverts his own commentary by noting the hilarity of social commentary itself — the implication that the commenter knows better than the person or that institution.
Though Tillman rejects the notion that he is cynical, citing his obsession with trying to find the most beautiful way to communicate certain ideas, his view of humanity is what some people would certainly peg as pessimistic. His album title, Pure Comedy, and the opening track of the same name directly reference the absurdity of human existence with the album artwork also matching this theme.
In an interview with NME, he said plainly that he thought the incredibly detailed album artwork is just important as the album itself. It takes common human behavior and removes our familiarity with it by turning it into a visual metaphor. For example, to represent war there is a crowd of cartoon people holding up the flags of various nations and cheering as gladiators fight to the death in front of them. There is a goal but nobody seems concerned with scoring — the focus of the participants is purely on carnage.
Religious, familial and sexual tendencies are well covered in the album's artwork, as well as the phenomenon of entertainment. In songs such as "A Bigger Paper Bag" and "Total Entertainment Forever," Tillman draws the line between art and entertainment by pointing out the hollow nature of the latter. Art allows us to examine our own reality from a different perspective, but entertainment dulls the senses and discourages unique thought.
"Birdie" is Tillman's modern take on the famous song "Imagine" by John Lennon as he poses various utopias that people would like to see. His twist on the song is that humans truly have the agency to create these worlds we seek, and if we chose to take advantage of our agency we are as free as the birdie he sings to.
But the freedoms we have aren't eternal and we are mortal, as he points out on "So I'm Growing Old on Magic Mountain." This song highlights the gradual grief of aging and how we all live in its shadow. Tillman is in denial of this process in the song as many of us are in our own lives.
As Father John Misty, Tillman tackles his own flaws as well as those of the society we all live in. His attempt to objectively critique human lifestyle is helped by his self-criticism, it gives depth to his rantings about the hilarious flaws of our society. Father John Misty doesn't discriminate when it comes to criticism — and he doesn't think you should either.