Father John Misty, who is singer-songwriter Josh Tillman’s extensive, sometimes egotistical stage persona; is not known for his subtlety. A cliché wrapped in melancholy and pseudo-religion, his years since the man’s solo debut, Fear Fun, have been filled with humorous interviews, Taylor Swift covers, and on-stage political declarations, which bring to mind more images of Kanye West than any of Tillman’s folk rock predecessors. Perhaps it is for this exact reason that the honesty offered by the singer-songwriter in his newest album, God’s Favorite Customer, is so refreshing. For songs penned by an artist known for his narcissistic lyrics and love of press coverage and navel-gazing, Tillman’s latest releases have proven a surprising (and necessary) departure from his norm. They are vulnerable, and occasionally awkward in their raw sentiment (my favorite line remains The Palace’s deadpan “Last night I wrote a poem / Man, I must’ve been in the poem zone”). Two months exile to a hotel seems to serve as both muse and setting for the album’s overarching narrative.
Combining soft rock with crooning vocals, God’s Favorite Customer could be an unusually somber coffee shop playlist or the soundtrack to the latest hit indie film. It makes for good background music. For all the passion behind his lyrics, the deeper meanings behind the verses are often lost in the drone of an album that is enjoyable but not groundbreaking. This is unfortunate, because as far as narrative goes, the album has a lot to offer. The ten songs featured in God’s Greatest Customer center around Father John Misty’s process of self-discovery and rediscovery after heartbreak. The first track, “Hangout at the Gallows,” serves as an introduction to the unique brand of manic, self-loathing that drives the album’s overall story; proposing a question Misty himself seems unable to answer in the lines “What’s your politics? / What’s your religion?… / Your reason for living?”
In the following songs, Misty details a fatigued surrender to his self-destructive tendencies (“It’s only been three weeks and a bag of speed”). However, it is not until the album’s final song, “We’re Only People (And There’s Not Much Anyone Can Do About That)”, that the listener receives a sense of closure and hope, with the second verse declaring:
“People, what’s the deal?
You’ve been hurt,
And I’ve been hurt,
But what do we do now?
People, we’re only people
There ain’t a thing one person can ever change about that”
Overall, this is a solid album, one that some believe will come to represent a turning point in Father John Misty’s career. Many critics have even suggested that it signals Misty’s return to the more humble folk-rock melodies that he favored while producing music under the pseudonym J. Tiller. While the sound of this album is reminiscent of many similar albums of his, there is considerable value in the narrative and lyrics within the album; particularly for the Christian listener. Influenced by Josh Tillman’s Evangelical upbringing, God’s Favorite Customer is laden with themes of sin and forgiveness, repentance and salvation, as it follows the singer’s journey toward self-discovery. It is hardly the innovative concept album Father John Misty seemed to aspire to create. With poignant twists, rich vocals, and poetic lyrics however, it is more than worth the thirty-eight minute listen.