Josh Tillman has yet to pick a style of music. As the album moves from one song to the next, you’re unsure if whatever platform you listen to hasn’t glitched and started playing something else.”I Love You, Honeybear” anxiously plays a soothing and romantic violin part on top of a drumline that sounds like a driver late for work and stuck behind someone driving 20 miles below the limit. “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)” moves back to something more similar to Father John Misty’s sound with bombastic brass parts and a voice from someone you know has a beard (which, incidentally, he does). “True Affection,” though, suddenly moves to some different dimension with awkward synth lines that seem incredibly out of place. The change is so sudden that after several listens I still feel uncomfortable when it comes on.
The former member of Fleet Foxes has made several albums in the past and gone through several monikers. I Love You, Honeybear is the second release under the name Father John Misty. His first album Fear Fun had a strong folksy vibe bordering on country, though the lyrics dealt with the myth of the celebrity, our obsession with the idea Hollywood, and the destructive nature of idolism. With this album, he removes the strong cynicism that laughingly raged through each line and muses song after song on what it means to be in love.
The cynicism, though, is still there, but it comes out in sudden outbursts that are more aggressive. On Fear Fun, his apathy was more of a joke as he laughed at all of the things he found so wrong with the world. Here, though, he does not have the time, and while many of the lyrics are still hilarious, they don’t hide their surging anger. On “Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow,” a song whose name almost sounds like a Panic! at the Disco track, Tillman tells a guy trying to hit on his wife, “Now my genius can’t drink in silence / She’s gotta listen to your tired-ass lines.”
With each change of pace and style, the album starts to come together and make a cohesive narrative. Outside of “True Affection” which I may never get used to and what I think is the weakest moment on the album, the different sides of Father John Misty mesh to create a poignant, conflicted, hilarious, and ultimately romantic portrait of his relationship to his wife. Tillman is at his strongest lyrically, from devastatingly simple lines – “Every woman that I’ve slept with / Every friendship I’ve neglected / Didn’t call when grandma died” – to deeply profound – “Oh, and no one ever knows the real you and life is brief / So I’ve heard, but what’s that gotta do with this atom bomb and me?” After several listens, you start undergoing the transformation that even the chronically-cynical Tillman went through: that maybe, just maybe, love is real and romance isn’t dead.