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Father John Misty Mixes Egotism And Humor On 'God's Favorite Customer'


This is FRESH AIR. Josh Tillman records under the name Father John Misty. The pseudonym derives partly from Tillman's background. He was raised in a strict evangelical Christian household and briefly considered entering the ministry. Tillman's new Father John Misty album is called "God's Favorite Customer." Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review.


FATHER JOHN MISTY: (Singing) Nothing surprises me much and my hobbies include laughing in the dark. Do you want to go to the farm? Do you want to go to the park? I'll get you ice cream if you give me your card. Nothing impresses me much.

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: Father John Misty is a self-absorbed fellow. To judge from his songs, he's prone to self-pity whenever he's not wrapped up in self-delusion. Self, self, self - it would be obnoxious if he also wasn't so self-aware. At one point on his new fourth album, "God's Favorite Customer," Father John, the alter ego of singer-songwriter Josh Tillman, tries to see himself from the point of view of a loved one. It's a roundabout, melancholy way of acknowledging the artistic selfishness that often accompanies confessional songwriting.


FATHER JOHN MISTY: (Singing) What would it sound like if you were the songwriter and you made your living off of me? What you detail your near-constant consternation, the way my presence makes your muses up and flee?

TUCKER: Josh Tillman's Father John Misty is a morose figure throughout "God's Favorite Customer," but not a humorless one. In the song called "Mr. Tillman," he sings in the voice of a beleaguered hotel concierge who's trying to cope with the demands of our hero, a very exasperating guest. It's rooted in truth. Tillman has said in interviews that he booked himself into a hotel while writing much of the material on this album and undergoing something like a breakdown. And, yes, if you hear the mention of Jason Isbell in this verse, that singer-songwriter really did encounter Josh Tillman during one of his dark nights of soulful room service.


FATHER JOHN MISTY: (Singing) Mr. Tillman, good to see you again. There's a few outstanding charges just before we check you in. Let's see here. You left your passport in the minifridge. And the message with the desk says here the picture isn't his. And, oh, just a reminder about our policy - don't leave your mattress in the rain if you sleep on the balcony. OK, did you and your guests have a pleasant stay? What a beautiful tattoo that young man had on his face. And, oh, will you need a driver out to Philly? Jason Isbell's here as well, and he seemed a little worried about you. I'm feeling good...

TUCKER: The wry humor that characterizes "Mr. Tillman" dries up in a subsequent more serious song about the same subject - "The Palace," Tillman's sarcastic name for the hotel he holed up in. There are times when Tillman sings about his self-centeredness and about the unfair advantage he's taken of his wife's patience with him that remind me of the autobiographical work of Loudon Wainwright III. The musical sound of this album, however, is rooted in 1970's pop and rock. His piano and his croon are reminiscent of Elton John and his "Tumbleweed Connection" period. The overlapping, multitracked harmonies and keyboard arrangements sound like an early John Lennon solo album. You can hear all of this on "Please Don't Die."


FATHER JOHN MISTY: (Singing) One more wasted morning when I could be holding you to my side. Somebody stop this joyless joyride. I'm feeling older than my 35 years. One more cryptic message, thinking that I might end it. Oh, God, you must have woken up to me saying that it's all too much. I'll take it easy with the morbid stuff. Oh, honey, I'm worried about you. You're too much to lose. You're all that I have. And, honey, I'm worried about you. Put yourself in my shoes. You're all that I have, so please don't die wherever you are tonight.

TUCKER: At the end of this album, Father John Misty sings, people, we know so little about ourselves. And by this time, a listener may be tempted to say, hey, speak for yourself, pal. The melodies and the singing are frequently beautiful. The question is whether you find the unabashed egotism engaging over the long haul. The more you listen to this lovely music, however, you realize Father John has performed a small miracle. He's made his revelations the kind of self-knowledge that describes us all.

DAVIES: Ken Tucker is critic-at-large for Yahoo TV. He reviewed the new Father John Misty album called "God's Favorite Customer." On tomorrow's show, writer Stephen McCauley talks about his new novel "My Ex-Life." It's a comedy about a couple whose marriage ended 30 years ago when the husband came out of the closet. They pick up their friendship as her marriage crumbles, and his boyfriend has left him. Hope you can join us.


DAVIES: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Mooj Zadie, Thea Chaloner and Seth Kelley. For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.


FATHER JOHN MISTY: (Singing) People, we're only people. There's not much anyone can do - really do about that, but it hasn't stopped us yet. People, we know so little about ourselves. Just enough... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ken Tucker
Ken Tucker reviews rock, country, hip-hop and pop music for Fresh Air. He is a cultural critic who has been the editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly, and a film critic for New York Magazine. His work has won two National Magazine Awards and two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards. He has written book reviews for The New York Times Book Review and other publications.