Our feature album this week is Pure Comedy by Father John Misty, the nom de guerre of Josh Tillman – veteran of eleven studio albums since his emergence in 2003. Pure Comedy, his third album under the Father John moniker, reads as more of a political discourse than it does a musical album. In the vein of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke or Jean-Jacques Rousseau before him, Father John laments the depths to which modern society has plunged and proposes radical overhauls to return to something more akin to the 'state of nature' discussed in those works.
Much like the Frank Zappa album that we looked at last month, Pure Comedy puts the world as it stands beneath a microscope and indiscriminately points out its flaws. Very few escape unscathed. Total Entertainment Forever (including that much-discussed Taylor Swift reference) envisions a world not dissimilar to that of Ernest Cline's Ready Player One – a revolution of technology that dictates and desensitizes every aspect of our lives. On a similar theme, Ballad Of The Dying Man laments the level of self-importance with which we have become imbued as a result of social media by positing the idea that someone on their death bed may fear for the future of a world devoid of their social commentary. Two Wildly Different Perspectives explores the differences (or lack thereof) in the polarized political system. The Memo ridicules the entertainment industry and its lowest common denominator approach to culture.
Misty's sharpest barbs, however, are saved for organised religion – a topic touched upon in most of his songs. Title track Pure Comedy shoots a wry sideways glance from the perspective of a new born, entering the world devoid of bias, completely dependant on others. He then invokes aspects of his own strict religious upbringing (“risen zombies, celestial virgins, magic tricks”) to revile what he perceives as pious manipulation. This theme is picked up once more in When The God Of Love Returns There'll Be Hell To Pay, an exploration of the biblical concept of the 'Second Coming'. In Misty's view, any creator that might exist has set human beings up to fail by giving them a sentience not gifted to other creatures and that any hell that might punish our human desires could be no worse than the hell we have created for ourselves on Earth. I don't think you'll be hearing a Songs Of Praise rendition any time soon.
As comedy goes, Pure Comedy is closer to a Shakespearian interpretation than it is Judd Apatow. It isn't exactly gag-rich though it does follow the literary pattern of beginning in tragic circumstances before moving towards a semblance of a happy ending (though Father John does seem to have less of a penchant for mistaken identity than old Bill did). The true comedy to which Misty is referring are the entrenched systems within which we have almost imprisoned ourselves. As is referenced in Birdie, by shifting the paradigms that govern our society, we may be able to achieve true freedom and not need to rally so vehemently against institutions of our own creation. If this fails, the closing message of In Twenty Years is that life itself is a miracle and our lives are so insignificant in relation to the universe around us that it may just be better to live a veiled existence. It is a vision that is part Utopian, part bleak realism, part put the quilt over your head and pretend it's not happening but, on the whole, it is thought-provoking and well-executed.
There is a slight danger of the album becoming a parable of hypocrisy – Misty donning a cassock of self-importance and providing his own social commentary whilst simultaneously condemning those who do the same. I think the fact that it is presented as art as opposed to 140 character misspelled ramblings means that he just about gets away with it. The album's stripped-back, almost evangelical nature fits perfectly with the preacher character that he has crafted and it is Misty's words and concepts, as opposed to the music, that will stay with you long after listening. It can make for uncomfortable listening at times but I think most of that can be attributed to the discomfort of truth – of having facts so often glossed over presented in such a raw fashion. Admittedly, there are sections of the album that come across as intensely self-indulgent however, when taken as a complete work, there are some who might see Pure Comedy as a beacon of hope in what seems a very dark time for humanity.
Then again, I might be wrong. I am a Musical Moron, after all...
Lyric Of The Week
“Just think of all the overrated hacks running amok//And all of the pretentious, ignorant voices that will go unchecked//The homophobes, hipsters, and 1%//The false feminists he'd managed to detect//Oh, who will critique them once he's left?”
Ballad Of The Dying Man
Play Misty for me
Father John pulls no punches
Sets the world to rights
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