Mr. Josh Tillman seems determined to stay relevant. God’s Favorite Customer comes just a little over a year after the release of Pure Comedy, an empty, pretentious album that did pretty well for him both on the charts and in reviews. The guy makes appearances on late night talk shows, podcasts, and, for some reason, Master of None, the Aziz Ansari ego project that has tried to distract the world from Aziz’s lack of real talent. In the vinyl pressing of 2015’s I Love You, Honeybear, the little booklet is full of candids of Tillman, on tour or otherwise, like an old Beatles album. There’s even a copy of a note written on Chateau Marmont stationery, just so you know damn well that Father John has been hanging out in this formerly ultra-important hotel, the previous home of rockstars, renegade writers, and other unstable celebrities. John Belushi died there. And Father John would realllllly like you to know that HE has spent some time there, too.
It’s all in line with the branding he’s tried so hard to pull off in this, the third stage of his fame. First were the Fleet Foxes years, which are not to be mentioned at all nowadays. Then his first solo attempt, just as Josh Tillman, releasing several albums that no one cared about. Finally, call him Father John Misty. Sure, why not? And on every one of these albums branded with FJM, he tries again and again to act like he’s a folk hero. Dylan, Guthrie, Davy Crockett. He steals his ideas, structure, and lyrical style from the greats of the past, but pisses his own, new name all over it.
Which brings us to the new release.
Given my past grievances with the guy and his generally mediocre songwriting abilities, I had to give credit when, after about 3 listens, I had to admit defeat. God’s Favorite Customer is solid. Now, part of why it’s so solid is it doesn’t do anything adventurous. No new sounds, old subject matter, stale chords. But it’s all done well. He didn’t go out on any limbs, so the only way to get him would be to chop the whole tree down, and you can’t do that — this tree’s been here for a hundred years. This tree is 20th-century American songwriting. It’s staying up.
I don’t even mind the songs where he talks about himself like he’s a legend, namely “Mr. Tillman,” and “God’s Favorite Customer.” Because I get wrapped up in the song. They’re catchy, which in the world of music is basically a superpower.
Sure, there are iffy tracks too. “Disappointing Diamonds Are the Rarest of Them All” sounds like he forgot to write a song for his wife for this one and spent a couple nights sitting on the trunk of a vintage Ford trying to put something together. But he brings it all back around. “Hangout at the Gallows” is a great welcome mat for the album, and “Date Night” comes at you like summer air that smells like hamburgers burning on a charcoal grill.
I’m sorry to say that, overall, the thing works, especially if, like me, you’re working through something and need a soundtrack.