When Father John Misty revealed his latest album was to be ‘a concept album about Josh Tillman’ (Tillman being the man behind the Misty moniker), it read as a smart-arsed way of announcing a record of self-reflection. What he failed to mention was that it is also a record all about love.
Not love in the perpetual, transcendental, Hugh-Grant-and-Andie-McDowell-kissing-in-the-rain sense, but a more realistic take altogether. From the slurred, drunken cuddle of the title track to the bawl-to-the-balcony howl of ‘The Ideal Husband’, I Love You, Honeybear is full of the savage honesty and pain of a real-life relationship. Negative cohesion (‘I haven’t hated all the same things / As somebody else since I remember‘) draws Misty to his darling on the resplendent recent single ‘Chateau Lobby #4’, while ‘Mascara, blood, ash and cum‘ sully the couple’s sheets on the aforementioned eponymous opener. Even on the closing track on ‘I Went to the Store One Day’, when Misty is ostensibly saved by the love of said good woman, he confesses ‘I’ve become jealous, rail-thin / Prone to paranoia when I’m stoned. / Because isn’t true love ‘Someone oughta put me in a home?’‘
It is the moments of heart-stopping honesty that really strike
Added to this, it is a cuttingly clever record, oscillating between caustically funny and frighteningly open. Misty further smudges the line between his two identities with a visit from his former character, who swaggers in like a pissed Lou Reed on ‘The Night Josh Tillman Came to our Apt.’ The song is a sardonic swipe at an unfaithful ex who claims ‘like literally, music is the air she breathes‘, with the malapropism evidently irking our fastidious protagonist. Inducing laughs and winces alike, it is delightfully cruel, and, in allowing Misty’s vocal to wander freely from bar to bar, is an example of the songwriter’s unique and finest traits. Another of these moments comes on ‘Bored in the USA’, a despondent plea to a ‘White Jesus’, as he lists sprawling dissatisfactions and complaints with American consumerism, which are met by peals of canned laughter.
A truly astonishing listen
Despite exhibiting all of the world-weary cynicism of a wrinkled Rotherham grandpa, it is the moments of heart-stopping honesty that really strike. On ‘Smiling and Astride You’ the singer admits ‘I can hardly believe I found you and I’m terrified of that‘ and ‘Maybe love is just an economy based on resource scarcity / But our fantasy is what that’s gotta do with you and me‘ on the penultimate ‘Holy Shit’. I Love You, Honeybear is possessed with such a strong grasp of voice- the amount italicised within this review is testament to that. Misty says whatever the f*** he wants to, and he does it with such conviction that it consistently tantalises the emotions. And even with the ambitious beauty of tracks like ‘Nothing Ever Happens at the Goddam Thirsty Crow’ and ‘Chateau Lobby #4’, it is this quality that turns eleven good songs into eleven exceptional ones. A truly astonishing listen.