While there is a new Father John Misty album out this month, you would hardly be aware of it unless you’re paying fairly close attention to the world of music. Josh Tillman’s fourth record released under the moniker, God’s Favorite Customer, has seen an uncharacteristically muted press cycle, particularly for someone who typically boasts such a loud public persona. It would appear that Tillman has been listening to his detractors and stepping out of the spotlight in order to allow the music speak for itself. Continuing his unabashed adoration of post-Beatles John Lennon, Father John Misty’s latest album is his most straightforward and vulnerable statement to date.
This new direction showcases Father John Misty as a living, breathing human being, distancing himself from the public image he’s so carefully crafted as the trolling provocateur. Here, he feels more earnest, taking a step away from the cynical, rhapsodic Pure Comedy in an attempt to pull in those he’s alienated with his cheeky, snide jabs at religion and the idea of celebrity. The seemingly honest approach to songwriting plays like a tonal return to the self-deprecating nature of I Love You, Honeybear, although he continues to indulge in dark, grim ballads (“Please Don’t Die,” “The Palace”). Such a dynamic storyteller, Father John Misty is still able to bring wit and criticism to his lyrics, without coming off as self-indulgent and smug, as he does so effortlessly on the glum yet charismatic “Mr. Tillman.”
There’s an undeniable element of God’s Favorite Customer that aims to make peace with those listeners who rejected his last album. He cut the runtime in half this time around and filled the record with songs that are much more direct and accessible, rather than focusing on analytical political commentary and philosophical dilemmas. Instead, it is a spiritual sequel to I Love You, Honeybear, checking in on his marriage after it has moved past its honeymoon phase. We see him exploring what happens to a man – as well as his relationships with women – when he revels in his own toxic masculinity and substance abuse, namely on the deadpan “Date Night” and the emotional, self-effacing “Just Dumb Enough to Try”: “I know a few ten-cent words / I can break out to keep up with her / But you can take what I know about love / And drown it in the sink.”
God’s Favorite Customer is a deeply vulnerable album, to the point where it can be painful to listen to at times. These tracks find him doing some deep soul searching, most openly on “Hangout at the Gallows”: “If you want an answer, it’s anybody’s guess / I’m treading water as I bleed to death.” He has taken a hard look in the mirror, and, as a result, there is a tremendous amount of humility to be found within these songs, which is not always the case with Father John Misty. He’s tuned down both the absurdity and the finger pointing, allowing the listeners to compare their view of him with his fractured perception of himself. Misty even closes the record with a message of kindness and unity on “We’re Only People (And There’s Not Much Anyone Can Do About That)”: ”Friends, all my friends / I hope you’re somewhere smiling /Just know I think about you more kindly than you and I have ever been / And I’ll see you the next time around the bend.”
Though there’s a clear thematic shift, the songs themselves fall in line with the sound we’ve come to expect from Father John Misty. Sonically, there isn’t much to separate these tracks from his previous work, leaning heavily into piano-filled ballads and open-strummed folk guitar chords. Stripping away the grandiose ambitions, he is able to focus more attentively on the sentiment, as one “The Songwriter.” Here, he exposes himself as searching for a sense of community and belonging, just like anyone else. He’s checked his superiority complex at the studio door, and he feels more authentic than he has in years.