The rumours circulating prior to the release of this new album by Josh Tillman aka Father John Misty was that a significant gear change had occurred and that the engine was purring. This has to served to wet many lips since his last album "Fear Fun" was also a clever and highly literate album to be treasured. On "I Love You, Honeybear" the ex-Fleet Foxes drummer has enlisted master musician and producer Jonathan Wilson which could be the special ingredient that has tipped him from very good to plain great. He creates poetry out of the mundane, reflects on the nature of modern living and delivers an album dedicated to love but deeply troubled by commitment.
Tillman's music can vary from the ecstatic to deeply introspective. In songs like the wonderful breezy pop of "True Affection" he can successfully stake a claim in the territory of French synth pop masters Phoenix and completely pull it off. Alternatively in the albums lead single "Bored in the USA" he delivers a mordant piano ballad full of self loathing on the human condition where he ruefully observes "How many people rise and say/My brain's so awfully glad to be here for yet another mindless day" His peerless performance of the song on the David Letterman show is a "must see" where lines such as "They gave me useless education/And a sub-prime loan on a craftsman home" are accompanied by ironic canned laughter making the it all the more poignant. Other tracks are jam packed with observational songwriting out of the top drawer. The slight Feet Foxes feel on "Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)" is one such example, while the sweeping "The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apt" sees him confess "Oh, I just love the kind of woman who can walk over a man/I mean like a marching band". The John Lennon-esque vibes that mix with alternative country underpinning of "Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Godxxm Thirsty Crow" is an absolute standout and demands repeated listens. Equally the sad acoustics of "I went to the store one day" is a song of heartbreaking brilliance that shows that Tillman is a master songwriter and has not forgotten his folk rock roots. Finally the fiery honesty of "The Ideal Husband" steps up the pace and as another reviewer wryly observes its leaves the listener with "a frozen uncertainty about whether we should laugh, cheer, or weep".
In the last analysis Tillman has delivered an album, which will be greeted with joy by lovers of intelligent music and trepidation by any major artists contemplating an album release in 2015 as he has set the bar very high. Ultimately it is a confessional record with a sense of detachment. Tillman essentially turns on himself with dark humour and caustic observational skills to reveal a deeply flawed man to whom we can all relate. More than this "I Love You Honey Bear" is a hugely romantic album by someone who sounds afraid to love. In this respect it shares a number of key similarities with John Grant's masterpiece "Queen of Denmark". Like that record it is a glorious baroque pop epic packed with wit, tragedy, angst and wry irony. Never has an existential crisis sounded quite so good.
Review by Red on Black