HomeMusicSaving Father John Misty: The Fragile Beauty of 'God’s Favorite Customer'

Saving Father John Misty: The Fragile Beauty of ‘God’s Favorite Customer’

God’s Favorite Customer Father John Misty

Something happened to Josh Tillman the summer of 2016. The bearded man behind the infamous moniker Father John Misty was still touring his universally revered second album I Love You, Honeybear and quietly gearing up for his yet-to-be-released third, Pure Comedy. But then, by complete accident, he ended up writing his fourth in the process.

Unfortunately, the circumstances were less of a prolific genius bursting with ideas, and more of a man verging on a total breakdown. He holed himself up in a tiny hotel in New York City for six weeks in self-imposed exile and couldn’t stop writing. Now, the result of that breakdown has been released in the form of God’s Favorite Customer, a candid look inside a mind in despair. If 2017’s Pure Comedy was the magnum opus developed over years of neuroses crafted by the existential dread related to politics and humanity, then God’s Favorite Customer is the stripped-back, raw slice of life of a man unraveling during a two month-long bender.  

In November 2017, Tillman admitted to Uncut Magazine that when his life “went off the rails,” he hoped to create an album that could save him. He remarked, “I think the music essentially serves the purpose of making the painful and the isolating less painful and less isolating. In short, it’s a heartache album.”

Luckily for the rest of us – like the three records that proceed it – God’s Favorite Customer proves that greatness can come from even the most dire of situations. In his pain, Josh produced catharsis in piano ballads, infectious melodies, sophisticated orchestration, and the most confessional lyrics of his career.

The lead single “Mr. Tillman,” while an unbearably catchy romp in its own right, paints a perfect picture of our protagonist beginning to unravel in a hospitable hotel lobby. The hotel clerk tips us off that Josh isn’t well; he’s left his passport in the mini-fridge, a mattress on the patio in the rain, and is undeniably drinking alone. Somehow, despite the grotesque imagery, the track is upbeat – an irony that recurs elsewhere on the album.

“Hangout at the Gallows” and “Please Don’t Die,” as evidenced by their titles alone, toy with heavy themes of suicide, paranoia, and depression, yet feature surprisingly danceable melodies and electric guitars as Tillman croons, “I’m treading water as I bleed to death.” Becoming aware of his own morbidity, Josh has a moment of self-realization in “Please Don’t Die” while talking to his wife and, by proximity, us as the audience. “Oh god, you must’ve woken up / To me saying it’s all too much / I’ll take it easy with the morbid stuff,” he tells us. Somehow, this track ends up being the most beautiful and meaningful on a record of beautifully meaningful songs.

The best track on God’s Favorite Customer, however, does more than that – it manages to flip the Father John Misty narrative on its own head. In “The Songwriter,” Josh steps outside himself to consider what his life would be if his wife were the one who “made a living off of [him].” He gives her a voice through the poignant piano ballad, asking her, “Would you undress me repeatedly in public / To show how very noble and naked you can be? […] What would it sound like if you were the songwriter / And loving me was your unsung masterpiece?” Tillman’s own self-awareness and clarity, he realizes, is what will save him.

Previously seen as a man with plenty of answers to the world’s unending questions on Pure Comedy, Josh instead becomes his most vulnerable and begs for help. On the record’s title song, he seemingly seeks solace in God, a character not unfamiliar to the mythos of Father John Misty, but not frequently called upon. He asks, “Won’t you speak to me, sweet angel? / Do you remember me? / I was God’s favorite customer / But now I’m in trouble.” Clearly, Tillman is willing to pay in order to be saved.

In the emotionally devastating track “The Palace,” Josh meditates on doing speed in his hotel exile, contemplates getting a pet, and selfishly “living on housekeeping and room service.” He is lost, in over his head, and desperately wants to return home to his palace with his wife: “Last night I texted your iPhone / And said I think I’m ready to come home.” The irony that he is comforting himself through creating music while asking for others’ help never ceases.

Doubling back on all the romance and grand gestures of I Love You, Honeybear, Josh approaches love through less of a starry-eyed, newlywed lens during this trying time. In “Disappointing Diamonds Are The Rarest Of Them All,” an ethereal track twinkling throughout with sweet falsetto, Josh posits, “A love that lasts forever really can’t be that special / Sure, we know our roles, how it’s supposed to go / Does everybody need to be the greatest story ever told?” Then, undercutting much of what we think of Father John Misty, the man reveals in “Just Dumb Enough To Try,” “But you can take what I know about love / And drown it in the sink.”

The raw honesty of these moments feel less cynical than to be expected; in fact, they feel remarkably refreshing. And soon, the listener begins to realize that while Father John Misty has been unraveling, he’s grown closer to his own truth. The music is making the painful less painful for us, too. The album’s Elton John-esque closer, “We’re Only People (And There’s Not Much Anyone Can Do About That)” breaks down the barriers that separate the listeners from the creator. When he asks us, “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 is zero cynicism in his questioning. We can climb out of our own suffering, too.

Incidentally, in creating a record that chronicles despair, inner turmoil, and crumbling relationships, Father John Misty perhaps elucidates more than he could have imagined. He wanted to find music that could make him feel less isolated and ease his pain, but he soon realized that the answer already lay inside him. God’s Favorite Customer is messy, but it is real, true, and a path to salvation. The artist causes pain, but his own art is the solution to curing it.

God’s Favorite Customer Rating: 9/10

Highlights: “Mr. Tillman,” “The Songwriter,” “Please Don’t Die”


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