Whatever you might say about Father John Misty, there is no denying that the man is talented. 2015s I Love You, Honeybear launched the Maryland singer-songwriter into the stratosphere with its achingly beautiful baroque-leaning instrumentation and lyrics poised between brutal honesty and sarcastic wit. The man also crafts a controversial figure outside of his music, something which elevates the music itself to an even greater level of allure. Given the oh-so-topical political and social upheaval in the time since Honeybear it would seem that the return of Misty’s trademark analytical musings in the form of Pure Comedy couldn’t possibly fail.
Here we find Misty stripping back his sound texturally. The space left by the absence of dominating trumpets and violins found in Honeybear draws more attention to Misty’s lyrics, undoubtedly the focal point of the album, but ironically it’s this focal point which provides the album’s biggest headache. A lot of the vocal melodies here are just simply not engaging; ‘Things That Would Have Been Helpful…’ fails to evoke any sort of emotion with its painfully bland verse refrain, and the album’s centrepiece ‘Leaving LA’ repeats the same (albeit extremely saccharine) vocal line over and over again for a much unneeded thirteen minutes.
Despite this there are flashes of genius throughout which help to save Pure Comedy from being a pure dud. ‘Ballad of the Dying Man’ builds from a simple piano ballad into a dynamic mini-epic with a beautiful flourish of gospel vocals in its climax, and ‘So I’m Growing Old…’ unfolds patiently and wistfully to provide the album’s most powerful moment, an instrumental outro which drifts away in such a manner so as to force the listener to reflect on everything that came before it. Finally, ‘In Twenty Years or So’ ends the album perfectly, the delicate falsetto refrain of “There’s nothing to fear” providing a suitably emotive conclusion.
Credit has to go to Misty for his timing with Pure Comedy. The reflections on society’s failings contained within will win many over in an age in which strong, outspoken cultural icons are needed perhaps more than ever, and instrumentally there is a lot of replay factor to be found, the subtleties in the production providing a new experience with each listen. However the album ultimately outstays its welcome, with many songs and ideas seeming half-baked and uninspired. It would appear that Father John Misty has an awful lot to say, but only half of it is remotely interesting.
Words by Lewis Edwards