After 2017’s political and satirical Pure Comedy, Josh Tillman (Father John Misty) is back already with a follow-up album titled God’s Favorite Customer. This time however, Tillman has left the political piano balladry behind and traded it for a more personal, vulnerable version of the persona we know as Father John Misty. That’s not to say that Tillman doesn’t fit his signature irony and the punchlines in – he has a few lighthearted lyrics as well- my favorite being a sullen, overly dramatic Tillman reciting the words: “Last night I wrote a poem / Man, I must have been in the poem zone” (The Palace). Instrumentally, we receive more or less the typical style of what entails a “Father John Misty song”- nothing unexpected, some predictable melodies here and there.
The context for this album comes from his short two month stay at a hotel, leaving his wife (Emma Elizabeth Tillman) for a bit. The details are unclear, but the event must have been so transforming that the result was an album delving deep into the psyche of Tillman.
The album opens with ‘Hangout at the Gallows’, which introduces Tillman’s lost contact with his religious upbringing (the underlying theme in the album) with references to Noah’s ark and Jesus. The chorus poses conventionally “socially unacceptable” questions, mocking American society and it’s refusal to face the facts: “What’s your politics? / What’s your religion?”
When released as a single, ‘Mr. Tillman’ was hilarious, but when put into context, the song is depressing and serves to establish the outline of Tillman’s mental state for the rest of the album. Tillman’s mindset is hazy and unaware during the track, presenting a self-destructive state of mind. He narrates the song in third person as a hotel concierge and addresses his melancholy over a catchy melody and a few playful whistles. There is a very high contrast between Tillman’s lyricism and the instrumentation in the song – the poppy guitars serve as an ironic parallel of Tillman’s denial of depression. Other songs like ‘Please Don’t Die’ and ‘The Palace’ explore Tillman’s melancholy during his existential crisis and takes you along through his journey during some of his more depressive states. The title track is quite possibly the most beautiful song off the album, featuring Weyes Blood’s angelic voice backing up Tillman’s. Tillman once again references his lost contact with his religion again in the song: “Don’t you remember me? / I was God’s favorite customer”.
‘The Songwriter’ is an ode to Tillman’s wife, putting things into perspective between the two – Tillman even questions if Emma would “make her living off of him”, as Tillman does by writing intimate songs documenting their relationship together. After all, he did dedicate an entire album to Emma (I Love You, Honeybear). The song is even an apology perhaps, to Emma for sharing the intimate aspects of their relationship with the public:
“Would you undress me repeatedly in public? / To show how very noble and naked you can be?”
Closing off the album with ‘We’re only People (And There’s Not Much Anyone Can Do About That)’, Tillman states the blatantly obvious fact that “we know so little about ourselves”, yet we have the constant desire to be someone else. Although it’s a straightforward and simple concept, maybe that’s the point for this song- to go back to the self-conflicting problem that started it all. He ends the (what felt like much, much longer) insightful 38 minutes of God’s Favorite Customer with a question provoking change: “Why not now?”
With this being the first album of Tillman’s to be the subject of himself, or rather – the heartwrenching act of dismantling the facade of Father John Misty, Tillman delivers a direct and personal piece of work inspired by experiences that come straight from the heart.