Josh Tillman wanted to make his masterpiece. Nothing could be more clear. Beyond this, what we find within Pure Comedy can be inscrutable. When Father John Misty presented us with I Love You, Honeybear, his recent marriage had brought out the unimaginable from the constantly jesting, wannabe playboy: sincerity. It was focused in its exploration of his demons, a mixture of genuine love and fear for the future. To be sure, thoughts of the apocalyptic and a general malaise often popped up, but here, they are the ruling forces.
Looking back down on his on stage “breakdown” last year, in which he (understandably) bemoaned the state of the world, it set the stage for all the proceedings here. That depression seeps into every aspect of Pure Comedy; a future of empty, virtual sex, destruction, and isolation. Tillman makes it all too clear he's aware of the potential effects of the change in attitude, addressing his hypothetical “college dude” fans, not without scorn, admitting they'll likely have little interest in his new “sad” tunes. This may contain honestly relating to his appeal to scene listeners, but fails to acknowledge many of his best moments have been far from joyful to begin with.
The problem here – if there is one – has little to do with his dour mood, but rather lies in the lack of a desire to provide much that truly goes beyond mockery. Misty's seemingly constant performance art, the artist as satire, has always threatened to overshadow his actual music, but here it seems whatever humanity Honeybear reeked of has been cloaked in ten layers of defensive discomfort. To be sure, his willingness to descend into darkness, both regarding the world and within himself, is a large part of the man's appeal, but here he seems to have misunderstood, or simply ignored, what makes him truly great. Songs such as ‘The Ideal Husband’ weren't just brutal messes – they were relatable. Spending time in their world leaves their listener, potentially, have found some comfort, or at least, some truth. Pure Comedy is content to simply discuss the problem.
To be fair, when it hits, it hits with the force of a sudden impact; ‘Leaving LA’ is only two minutes shy from fifteen, and it earns every moment of its epic, blistering tragedy. Few songs this year have struck both so immediately and deeply, as Misty traverses through Americana into self delusion and, ultimately, perhaps, awakening. It's not to be missed, and it's a shame the majority of the material just doesn't quite hit that sweet spot. The opening title-track, for example, is strong, but in continues to examine the same line of thinking as ‘Bored in The USA’, and can't help feeling a re-tread.
Again, Misty does often seem very self-aware here, shooting himself down with lines such as, “Another white guy in 2017/ Who takes himself so goddamn seriously.” It leads to some great moments, but overall, the sense is that he didn't apply enough of that awareness to the actual music at play here. He's so convinced of the imagined inevitability of the fallout from the album, so prepared with his, “It's not me, it's you,” that he doesn't see the possibility of his nobility as simply hubris. He's no longer edifying or reaching us, more often than not, he's just pontificating – and not even to the listener. He's mourning with himself. In short: be dark, Tillman, be dark. We'll follow. Just try and ensure the journey is worth the journeying.