Nostalgia is currently in vogue in music in 2015, as proven by some of the most praised records of this year so far. We’ve have superlatives for Bob Dylan (legend releases album of covers of standards), Sleater-Kinney (beloved cult band releases first album in 10 years) and now the new album from Father John Misty (alias of former Fleet Foxes drummer Josh Tillman) which is – one song apart – in thrall to country and symphonic pop of the 1970’s. But there’s a twist, as Misty seems to be trying to be sincere and write songs as “himself,” but have an alter ego at the same time. Confusing I know.
After publicising the new record, I Love You, Honeybear, by playing at Spotify’s office and making up a fake digital streaming service to enable people to ‘hear’ the album, the songs now have to stand up for themselves. The album is reminiscent of Harry Nilsson’s work, blending lush, almost ornate arrangements with either sad or sardonic lyrics. Nilsson famously wrote both love songs and bitter break-up songs, and Misty does so here as well.
He claims that he created the character of John Misty to get away from using clichés, but as admitted that falling in love with his wife has affected the album and made him a cliché. This is borne out in the lyrics of the album, which describe having sex as a mess of “mascara, blood, ash and cum.”
The track “The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apt.” seems to be a song of self-loathing, where Tillman lists the things about both his wife and himself that irritate him. Interestingly “I Went to the Store One Day” is a relatively straight song which deals with the time Tillman first met his future wife.
All of these coruscating lyrics are backed up with either lush orchestration — especially on the title track — or Gram Parsons-indebted country, apart from the techno tinged “True Affection,” which could be Tillman’s idea of a joke.
So, is this a good album? The albums seems to be one that is more admired than liked. I can imagine that a lot of middle-aged music critics feel that they empathise with Misty, but much of it comes off as an insincere in-joke. Which perhaps is the point.
I Love You, Honeybear is out now.