Father John Misty, aka J. Tillman, aka former member of the epic hipster band Fleet Foxes, has struck out on his own yet again with his latest offering, Fear Fun. Not entirely familiar with his work as J. Tillman but a big fan of Fleet Foxes, I was interested in hearing what this album had to offer. Add to this interest the vouching of many of my music-loving friends for the veracity of Fear Fun, and I was sold. I’m going to love this album, I think to myself as I press play …
The album opens up promising with “Funtimes in Babylon,” a moody track featuring stellar production and some solid singing by Father John. Track two, “Nancy From Now On,” doesn’t fare so well. The first line of the song “Punch me in the face / You can call me Nancy,” is easily one of the worst lines I’ve ever heard – only to be topped (bottomed?) as I listen to subsequent songs on this album. The rest of “Nancy” isn’t a bad listen.
“I’m Writing A Novel” is possibly the weakest song on the album, which is an achievement in and of itself. The lyrics in this song make me wonder if it were meant as a farce, as if Father John took on the persona of a middle-schooler attempting to write like Bob Dylan, with sprawling narratives and metaphor – only with little or no meaning and/or depth. Sadly, this is not the case. It appears as though Misty is writing at his best, which is not only super-sad, but puts me in the awkward position of coming off as a terrible bully – the kind of guy who makes fun of those with special needs or lights bottle rockets aimed at old ladies in walkers as they pass by my neighborhood. Watching videos of Misty perform this song, it is clear to see that he is not lacking for confidence. This man has bravado for certain, but for the life of me, I don’t know what for. Misty comes off as the kind of person who believes that they’re worth it if for no other reason than that they think it so. Style over substance, minus substance.
“Only Son Of the Ladiesman” is a good song. It stands out as a great song, but I fear that the old two fat girls and one okay-looking girl paradigm is in effect here. See, when taken alone, a girl who is a six or seven at best, is easy to spot for what she is. However, when surrounded by a couple chubby bunnies in a room full of dudes, she is suddenly stunning. This is possibly the case with “Only Son Of the Ladiesman,” which is surrounded by stinkers, yet on its own, never really goes anywhere or does anything other than not blatantly sucking balls.
Other lowlights include “Well, You Can Do It Without Me,” which sounds like a Jim Croce rip-off that never should have made it off of the cutting room floor. This is followed by “Now I’m Learning To Love The War,” which takes home the prize for worst lyrics in the worst lyrical album of the year. “Try not to think so much about the truly staggering amount of oil that it takes to make a record / All the shipping, the vinyl, the cellophane lining / The high gloss, the tape and the gear …” Seriously? Are you trying to put me to sleep, Father John? Is this a song or a fucking how-to manual set to song? Why? Why such unbelievably bad lyrics? Because Father John Misty is a nightmare of a songwriter, that’s why. Worst of all, he appears to believe what he’s saying.
The upside of Fear Fun is the production. Phil Ek did a superior job polishing these turds, making what would otherwise be a terrible listening experience palatable for folks who have no use whatsoever for even a precursory use of the English language in any sort of cogent and/or artful way. The musicianship is also top shelf. Everything is in place to make this a very enjoyable album – except Father John Misty, who does his best (worst?) to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by attempting to be pithy and cute in his writing. Pithy is great if done right. Cute should never be the goal of a grown man nor a songwriter. Unfortunately, pithy and cute are goals far too lofty for this album.
If I had an extra hand, I’d give this album three thumbs down. Or I’d use that hand to slap my buddies in the face for recommending Fear Fun. I feel as though I’ve been had. Swindled, deceived or tricked.