Lullabies to Cauterize
Father John Misty is, perhaps, one of those artists it takes a while to figure out. You listen and you hate it, you listen again and you have a less marmite response, you listen again and suddenly you realise that the reason you don’t like it is the Elton John thing. Not Father John Misty’s fault totally, but owing rather to a childhood growing up in England and being aurally assaulted by Capital Gold’s 70s and 80s hit rotation on your parent’s car radio, which included not an unfair amount of the British crooner. (That’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it.) But, yeah, you can’t deny the Elton John thing. Luckily, by the end of the set, all thoughts of that had evaporated.
Resplendent in suit and sunglasses, Father John Misty opens with “Pure Comedy”, a song sounding much like the piano-driven 70s piano pop referred to previously, but it’s the narrative twist which makes it unique. Rather then a paean to love, as one might expect, Misty instead talks of humanity and religion: “Their religions are the best, they worship themselves, yet they’re totally obsessed with risen zombies, celestial virgins, magic tricks…”. All this bleak comedy wrapped beneath a layer of pop to lull those not paying attention seems like a private joke you’re invited to join in on.
The formula seems somewhat set – “the Taylor Swift song” “Total Entertainment Forever” is pop balladic, “Revolution” goes for musical dramatics, yet it all seems much in the same vein by the time “Dying Man” plays – think of a misanthropic Bernie Taupin penning tunes through the end of a tequila bottle. The formula itself is polished and highly listenable, with the mercurial frontman’s voice warm honeyed timbre appealing in the post-downpour chill.
So, when “Smiling and Astride Me” begins with a loose-stringed blues guitar motif, it makes for a pleasant change, as though the Misty persona is shrugged off for a more candid confessional. The lyrics are less caustic and more startlingly heartfelt as in the relatable “I can hardly believe I’ve found you and I’m terrified by that”. Misty gets down on his knees for this number, perhaps to extol the sincerity of the lyrics.
Listening to Father John Misty, it is hard to get away from the capricious persona that towers over the music – balancing acerbic irony with earnest acclamations of love, you begin to wonder which version of the man is true. Live though, the answer seems clearer – that whatever version we receive, the music itself stands tall over the Field of Heaven.