Quite frankly, a masterpiece of an album.
With his fourth album under the Father John Misty moniker, Josh Tillman slowly moves away from the caustic, cynical-yet-hilarious-yet-meaningful, imagery-and-metaphor-laden baroque pop of his past records, to slightly less metaphor-laden baroque pop songs that deal far more explicitly with the themes they concern themselves with. While on past albums he may have sung about virtual-reality sex with Taylor Swift, or “Mascara, blood, ash and cum/ On the Rorschach sheets where we make love”, or even how his “reality is realer than yours”, here he sings frankly and openly about feeling alone, his suicidal thoughts, and how much he loves his wife.
God’s Favorite Customer is, ironically given the title, Tillman’s most humble and human album yet. In an interview with Uncut, Tillman described the album as “the real I Love You, Honeybear but without the cynicism.” A fitting description since I Love You, Honeybear was, at its simplest, a honeymoon love album for his wife that was veiled and cloaked in double-speak, cynicism, punchlines, and filth. God’s Favorite Customer however, finds itself roaming hotel hallways, bedrooms, and lobbies. Written over a six week period, during two months where he was living in a hotel, the album moves around the hotel grounds and through various viewpoints around the hotel.
Opening in Tillman’s hotel room, where he is unable to sleep, the album’s opener, ‘Hangout at the Gallows’ introduces Tillman’s suicidal thoughts gently into the mix when he compares his insomnia to his suicidal thoughts. He also finds time to bemoan the futility of the boxes that humanity forces themselves inside, of their own will, when he asks “What's your politics?/ What's your religion?/ What's your intake?” One’s political affiliation and religion get put alongside the human intake (of whatever sort: drugs, alcohol, food, or culture) that drives people through their lives. All of them get lumped in together and minimised as Misty then asks for a clarification as to what is “your reason for living?” With the following track, ‘Mr. Tillman’, the hotel clearly materialises for the listener as the song’s protagonist, an unnamed hotel clerk or employee, follows Misty’s on his misadventures around the hotel. The most obviously comic track on the album, the comedy also delivers a sobering image of Tillman’s life in the hotel. The employee discusses Tillman leaving a mattress in the rain and his passport in the mini fridge, the face tattoo of his friend from the previous night, and reassures him that the people in the hotel are not extras in a film. Along with ‘The Palace’ and ‘Disappointing Diamonds Are the Rarest of Them All,’ ‘Mr. Tillman’ is one of the few tracks on the album that holds on to the absurdity and humour found throughout past Father John Misty releases.
The album is full of standout, gorgeous, sentimental, and fun tracks that fail to lose their charm. With enough diversity throughout the album, stylistically and lyrically, to keep the listening experience consistently wonderful and the listener never finds themselves drifting into monotony. ‘Please Don’t Die,’ however, is a particular standout. It moves back and forth between Tillman’s, and wife Emma Elizabeth Tillman’s, mind. Describing living by himself in a hotel, and a descent into his mind and depression before starting to openly and loudly talk about ending it all. His wife then responds in the chorus with a plea for him to understand her own point of view: “honey, I'm worried 'bout you/ Put yourself in my shoes/ You're all that I have so please don't die/ Wherever you are tonight.” With the “honey” of the chorus also comes a gorgeous jump into a falsetto from Tillman that forces the words to cut deep into the listener’s mind.
The theme of interplay between him and his wife continues with ‘The Songwriter’ whic has Tillman genuinely asking his wife, “What would it sound like if you were the songwriter/ And you made your living off of me?/ Would you detail your near-constant consternation?/ Or the way my very presence makes your muses up and flee?” It’s a guilt-laden track in which Tillman refuses to wallow in his guilt but instead lays out his ‘crimes’ as a songwriter who uses his wife as a muse for his music and lyrics (“would you undress me repeatedly in public/ To show how very noble and naked you can be?”). He lays out his own hypocrisy and mocks himself but brings it together in the end when he sings “What would it sound like if you were the songwriter/ And loving me was your unsung masterpiece?”
God’s Favorite Customer is a drunken, depressed album about love and heartbreak that bounces along and showcases all of Tillman’s quirks and flaws as a human and as a songwriter. It also showcases his ability to craft brilliant songs, with great music and lyrics, and remain uniquely himself even when he strikes out on a different path. It’s, quite frankly, a masterpiece of an album.