For his third full-length album as Father John Misty, Josh Tillman aimed for deep left field and hit it. Pure Comedy gets bonus points for being not only ambitious and beautiful, but also insightful. There’s enough misanthropy on tap here to satisfy the most committed pessimist, but a dose of self-awareness keeps the album from spiraling into mere griping.
I read a lot of thinkpieces on this album last year, and a lot of interviews with Father John, and I feel as though many critics fundamentally misunderstood the album, reacting in a knee-jerk manner to its critique of consumerism and late capitalism at a time when many music critics now believe artistic integrity isn’t impinged by crass commercialism.
One of the only writers who did grasp what Misty was trying to do on Pure Comedy — The New Yorker’s Nick Paumgarten — did so because he understood the effect that Tillman’s evangelical Christian upbringing has on his songwriting and worldview. Those that tried and failed, however, exposed their unwillingness to reckon with an album that, at times, pointed a critical lens at the very lifestyle they enjoy.
Would that all adults retain the ability to be self-critical in an age defined by the deep reach of marketing spin. It’s not fun to be put under the microscope, but it reveals unsavoury aspects of ourselves that must be exposed to light before they can wither.