With God’s Favorite Customer, Joshua Tillman, the man behind Father John Misty, continues to solidify his reputation as a narcissistic grifter, though this time in the absence of his wife Emma. Written during a six-week hotel stay while the two were separated, God’s Favorite Customer is Tillman’s retreat into himself. It’s the emotional breakdown he has after, in the words of Joan Didion, he runs away to find himself and finds no one at home. If we go by Tillman’s own definition of authenticity as “empathizing with people and making them feel like what you’re talking about is somehow reflective of their own experiences,” then this record is an authentic one in the saddest way. He paints the dark mood of the album in its opener, “Hangout at the Gallows,” a song with biblical allusions to Noah and the great flood of the Earth, with the one-two punch imagery of the line, “I’m treading water as I bleed to death.”
This record is no stranger to grim self-harm. In that same opening song, Tillman’s haunting voice questions the reason for living, and he spends the remainder of the 38 minutes trying to remember it. Even more anecdotal songs like the lead single “Mr. Tillman” are fraught with signs of doom and gloom, as Tillman counters concerns from the hotel concierge with the lie, “I’m feeling good / Damn, I’m feeling so fine.” There are still signs of Father John Misty’s psychedelia from the synthesizer use in “Date Night” or “Disappointing Diamonds Are The Rarest of Them All,” but tracks like “The Songwriter” bring us the Elton John side of Tillman: a man and his piano, who as evidenced by “The Palace,” has traded in his usual mushrooms for a bag of speed. His penchant for translating his hotel experience into a full-length album resembles artists like Adele who write intimately about their personal dilemmas. But for all his best efforts, subtle harmonica included, Father John Misty is still no Bob Dylan.
Or maybe he is – more in the way that he mirrors the cliched rock-and-roll asshole qualities of Zimmerman (let’s not forget his onstage rant at the 2016 WXPN XPoNential Festival). The difference in the public regard of each artist though, is that Father John Misty has yet to produce his own Blonde On Blonde. This new album is a step in the right direction though. We see the authenticity of his dark self-reflections on God’s Favorite Customer, when Tillman struggles with the shortcomings of real love in wondering, as we all do, “Does everybody have to be the greatest story ever told?” And at his lowest point on the album in the title track, the Evangelist-raised Tillman calls out to angels in futile desperation, clawing for any way to cope with his pain, even one he’s long rejected.
By the time we reach the final song of the balanced 10-track album, Tillman has yet to find the answers to the questions he asked in the opener. There are glimmers of his signature snide arrogance throughout the rest of the album, but “We’re Only People (And There’s Not Much Anyone Can Do About That)” is a humble track. At the end, after musing about the lack of sense or reason in moments of pain, he answers his first questions with new ones: “Why not me? Why not you? Why not now?” God’s Favorite Customer comes full circle, blurring the line between Father John Misty and Joshua Tillman as he bares his most vulnerable thoughts to us until we start to see them in ourselves. Listening to his darkness shows us our own, but gives us few ways to cope with it. That, Father John Misty, in his still-captivating selfishness, leaves us to do alone in our own versions of his hotel room. — SOPHIE BURKHOLDER