Album Review: Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear

Bella Union have been on a massive – and I mean massive – roll this year. In 2015 they’ve released the long overdue return albums by B.C. Camplight, Mercury Rev and John Grant and Ezra Furman’s breakthrough album. In among all these was Father John Misty’s second album, I Love You, Honeybear, which saw J. Tillman follow up his pseudonym’s debut with a concept album about himself. Yup, this is Father John Misty’s musical autobiography. That sounds terribly self indulgent doesn’t it?

It’s also terribly, terribly good.

As great as Fear Fun sounded, I Love You, Honeybear takes the all encompassing sound of Father John Misty’s music to the next level. This may seem at odds with the starkly personal subject of the lyrics, but it works far better than you might think, as it doesn’t depersonalise it in the way you might think it would. A particular stroke of genius is splitting “Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow” into two, the first part dealing with Tillman turning down women that just won’t take no for an answer, and the second part detailing how his partner receives unwanted attention in the same bar when he’s out of town. It’s a simple conceit, but it works wonderfully.

As narrative driven as I Love You, Honeybear is, you might expect the songs that make up its whole to be rather hit and miss affairs. Nothing could be further from the truth. Unlike the vast majority of musical autobiographies, it’s untroubled by a weak spot. Sure, some songs hit higher peaks than others, such as “Ideal Husband” and the title track, but the whole album has a reassuring feeling of quality and craftsmanship. Perhaps inevitably it’s greatest moment is the heartbreakingly downbeat “Bored in the USA”, a song so cutting that Tillman thought it necessary to add a laugh track to blunt it’s razor sharpness. As great as the song is, I would have loved to have heard it without the laugh track, just to hear how skin-peelingly raw it was originally.

“Bored in the USA” leads a devastatingly effective trio of closing tracks, as “Holy Shit” unfailingly hits its mark and sounds for all the world like a cool outtake from Elton John’s Tumbleweed Connection and the closing “I Went to the Store One Day” is headswimmingly romantic in an utterly unique way. It’s unarguably the ideal way to end an album as confessional yet romantic as I Love You, Honeybear, as it finds Tillman celebrating his relationship and looking to their future together.

As self indulgent as I Love You, Honeybear’s subject matter may be, it’s effectively part a love letter to Tillman’s now wife, and part him coming to terms with his lesser moments in his past. When you put it like that, it sounds like something that not just all musicians should consider doing, but maybe something we should all do.

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