Father John Misty’s God’s Favourite Customer comes barely more than a year after his album Pure Comedy, which released in April last year. The songs of this new album were conceived in much the same time period, only a matter of months later. And Misty (real name Josh Tillman) has stated in interviews that they were written during a period in which he was struggling with mental health issues, and spent two months estranged from his wife while living in a hotel.
Coming so soon after Comedy, it’s no surprise that God’s Favourite Customer is very similar in terms of musical style. Both albums are largely comprised of languid, mid-paced piano ballads over which Misty sings in his typically self-aware, sarcastic manner. But Customer is only a couple minutes shy of being half Comedy’s length, and as a result avoids that record’s biggest flaw: its over-indulgence.
When I reviewed Pure Comedy in 2017, I said I felt like it was “beating me over the head with self-aware, post-ironic commentary”. That certainly isn’t the case for Customer, whose songs are much more concise, and tend to follow conventional verse/chorus structures. This helps to make Tillman’s lyrics, which are still the most appealing thing about his music, stand out even further.
While there are plenty of lines written from behind an ironic sneer, songs like ‘Please Don’t Die’, ‘Just Dumb Enough to Try’ and ‘Disappointing Diamonds are the Rarest of Them All’ are about as close as Father John Misty will ever get to a completely sincere love song. And their strong vocal performances are matched with some more lively instrumentation, bringing a bit of volume and energy to the record.
But taken as a whole, the ten songs of God’s Favourite Customer blur into one, and lack anything really distinct to make them stand out. Listen to the first three seconds of ‘Just Dumb Enough to Try’, ‘The Palace’, and ‘The Songwriter’ one after another and you’ll understand what I mean – each features the same slow, minor chords played at almost exactly the same tempo.
It all just feels too safe, and although I appreciate that this album is more direct than its predecessor, I can’t help feeling I’m walking on familiar ground. I’d love to see Father John Misty apply his lyrical talents to some more adventurous music, but I don’t doubt that God’s Favourite Customer will continue to feed the cult of personality which surrounds Misty at this point, and be more than enough to appease his fans.