Pure Comedy is stunning, despite lengthy ballads

By Zach Smith, Reporter



Father John Misty, a.k.a Josh Tillman, has been releasing music under the FJM pseudonym since the early 2010s, mostly doing folky stuff, not unlike the Lumineers. His 4 studio albums (5 by April) are given near-universal praise for their smart sense of humor, mixed with genuinely poetic writing. Such accolades do not apply to his third LP, Pure Comedy. This record is either hated or adored, depending on who one asks. Some people think this album is a funny, yet in-depth look at the problems that face humanity as of 2017. This critic falls more with the latter, but will not overlook some of the issues with the LP.

Father John Misty

This album starts by putting its best foot forward with the title track. The song serves as the manifesto of the record, describing the absurdity of human existence, and labeling it a “comedy”. “Pure Comedy” is easily an all-time favorite song, especially when considering the build at the end. FJM does not disappoint with the lyrics either, and the first couple of lines of the song are brilliant:

The comedy of man starts like this:
Our brains are way too big for our mothers’ hips
And so nature, she devised this alternative:
We emerge half-formed and hope whoever greets us on the other end
Is kind enough to fill us in

Total Entertainment Forever” is significantly more upbeat and covers the state of entertainment in the present, saying that humanity did not do badly for “a race of demented monkeys”, while also criticizing the way people dispose of media instead of celebrating it for what it is. Was Tillman was projecting a bit with this song?

(Photo by The Culture Revolution)

The record returns to a slightly more meandering pace with “Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution” and “Ballad of the Dying Man“. These songs both criticize humanity for not focusing on what really matters, and the aftermath of the fact. The former chronicles the human race’s struggle for survival after putting off climate change for too long, while the latter pokes fun at people who think their opinions on social media matter. The titular, dying man is portrayed as someone who is on their death bed, paranoid that no one will be around to call out the “the homophobes, hipsters, and one percent”. Perhaps the best line on the entire album is on this track, where the dying man “takes his final breath, but first checks his news feed to see what he’s ’bout to miss”.

A Bigger Paper Bag” has maybe the top melody on the entire record, and covers narcissism, poignantly contrasted with the comfort provided by drugs and alcohol. The album closer, “In Twenty Years or So“, criticizes philosophy and humanity’s endless search for answers to the questions of life. This message is contrasted with his revelation that despite the world’s desperate grasp for meaning, people ultimately do not matter in the grander universal plan. This message is a bit deductive and nihilistic, but he sings with such sorrow and conviction that the audience believes it.

Father John Misty

Although, for the most part, this album is stunning, there are some serious brown spots on this banana. The songs “Birdie” and “Leaving LA” in the middle of the record bring the pace to a screeching halt. If “Birdie” alone was here, it would be fine since the song is pretty sweet and only 5 minutes long. What makes the track unacceptable is that it is next to the 13-minute acoustic monster that is “Leaving LA”. This song is almost exclusively scored by a single acoustic guitar, letting FJM’s lyrics (tearing down Hollywood) breathe. The melody barely changes and gets incredibly tiring by the 3-minute mark, let alone 13 minutes. The fact that these two acoustic ballads are right next to each other, and are about 20 minutes long in total, make this a pretty baffling choice on FJM’s part.

All in all, this record is pretty good, but one cannot give it a glowing review considering the egregious 20-minute dirge in the middle of the 74-minute record. Still, Pure Comedy is recommended, regardless, because Father John Misty’s lyrics are brilliant, if a little pretentious. The title track is absolutely stunning as well.

FAVORITE TRACKS: “Pure Comedy”, “Total Entertainment Forever”, “Ballad Of The Dying Man”, “So I’m Growing Old On Magic Mountain”.

LEAST FAVORITE TRACKS: “Leaving LA”, “Two Wildly Different Perspectives”.