Josh Tillman’s fourth commercial release as Father John Misty is his darkest creation yet. Written over the course of a six week period where Tillman was couped up in a hotel, estranged from his wife, seemingly embarked on a journey of binge drinking and self-destruction, God’s Favorite Customer is a much more conventional set of songs than 2017’s grand social commentary Pure Comedy.
Stylistically, Misty’s newest release wades in some of the same waters as its predecessor, melding rich folk-rock instrumentation and textured piano melodies to set the stage for his theatrics. However, where Pure Comedy was long, drawn out and dramatic, God’s Favorite Customer returns to shorter track lengths and a mix of stripped back ballads and explosive tunes that highlight Tillman’s catastrophic state of living. Some would say on his last record he sounded too smart for his own good, but here Tillman’s musings paint him as dejected, lost and nearly hopeless. His lyrics are consistently filled with unavoidable dark imagery. “I’m treading water as I bleed to death,” he cries on the opener, “Hangout at the Gallows.”
Throughout the album, Misty continuously reflects on personal shortcomings and internal conflict. Whether it be his lack of empathy and understanding towards women on “Just Dumb Enough to Try” or alluding love to oil spills and sun-bathed carcasses on “Disappointing Diamonds Are the Rarest of Them All”, he sings these songs with an awfully pessimistic viewpoint.
The silver lining in Tillman delivering an album this dark is that you can always expect him to lean on his sarcasm and wit, which usually makes for a good laugh. He approaches his troubles with heaps of humor, such as on the catchy lead single, “Mr. Tillman.” “Date Night” is a drunk adventure at midnight of a man gone off the deep end, fueled by infectious, tongue-in-cheek guitar strumming, saloon style piano playing and Misty’s enticing degenerate taunts. These tracks are still relevant to the sad themes on the album, but the upbeat and friendly nature of the music on them provides welcomed moments of relief from the relentlessly depressing storylines.
Still, at its most intense moments, God’s Favorite Customer is pure madness. “Please Don’t Die,” which pays homage to The Byrds and Bob Dylan, is a heartbreaking ballad sung from the perspective of Tillman’s despondent wife. His tormented psyche is then best stated on the title track. A slow piano ballad that gradually builds in instrumentation with lonesome harmonica and troubadorian keyboards, the song finds Tillman in a strange stream of consciousness – confronting his preposterous behavior internally and simultaneously turning to God for guidance.
If anyone could make a record about losing their mind in a hotel this gorgeous, it’s Father John Misty. God’s Favorite Customer is inarguably a sad and depressing record, but with every listen, it is so easy to become enriched with its beautiful performances, it disguises Tillman as a masterful composer (which is indeed true) as opposed to someone who is on the brink of insanity.
Whether he wanted to or not, Father John Misty has become a staple in modern folk-rock music. This likely won’t go down as his most important album, but God’s Favorite Customer cements him as one of the best indie artists of the decade.