I Love You, Honeybear, Father John Misty
Father John Misty, the moniker of Josh Tillman, has released his sophomore album, I Love You, Honeybear. While the name Father John Misty might sound like that of a debauched guru, a persona fully represented in the Fear Fun debut, Tillman’s recent nuptials also seem to inform much of Honeybear. Still, Honeybear’s voice is distinctly Misty’s.
Those who most enjoy this album are probably more privileged, with a likely melancholic disposition. Luckily, I satisfy both criteria, and this album speaks to my cynical, sarcastic, self-loathing soul. This album was written by a white man primarily for and about rich white people, exploring the elite problem of ennui produced by passive existence. What is it about death and despair that is so damn sexy to the privileged of this generation? I don’t know, but it hurts so good.
The eponymous title track, “I Love You, Honeybear,” establishes the album’s course and ultimate argument. This is the sequel to Fear Fun’s “Hollywood Forever Cemetery,” now that Father John has settled down into married life. He’s still Misty, though, still “naked, getting high on the mattress” with his partner. The instrumentals and repetition of the song sweep the listener away in reverie, but this joy is tempered by “I Love You, Honeybear’s” excess and hyperbole. Cliché and overstatement pervade the line “everything is doomed / And nothing will be spared,” puncturing the listener’s bubble of content. Still, those instrumentals and Misty’s irresistibly sincere vocal quality won’t let the listener write the song off as pure sentimentality. The song suggests that both love and despair are more complicated than the speaker’s language can represent. The diminutive “Honeybear” best reflects the preoccupation of both the song and album by differentiating between triteness, sentimentality and authenticity of feeling. “Honeybear” concludes: “But everything is fine / Don’t give in to despair / ‘Cause I love you, Honeybear.” Despite the gaucherie of this formulation, could there be an element of truth to its essential idea? Could it be so simple that love really is all that matters? The rest of the album revolves around this theme.
The album’s weaknesses are in its center. Tillman’s careful and largely successful balancing act between banality and sincerity falters on the cheesy “When You’re Smiling and Astride Me.” “Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow” is about how awesome the speaker’s wife is, but it feels a bit like female objectification with the line warning “men about town [not] to forget what’s mine” while he’s on the road. Luckily, “Strange Encounters” pulls the album out of this slump, entering a more desperate tone continued in “Ideal Husband,” where I pity the pathetic speaker so much I almost love him.
The album’s decadence accumulates in its final songs. If listeners aren’t sure at first that all this is layered in irony and self-awareness, the fake circus laugh track on “Bored in the USA” should convince them. The song of disillusionment confronts materialism, a mutual falling out of love that seems inevitable with age, blind religion, blind patriotism and the illusion of the American dream, just to name a few. Yet elements of truth and sincerity still seep through the excess and sarcasm. “Holy Shit” extends the theme of “Bored” – a cathartic deluge of disappointing truths and generational failings – which still keeps coming back to the redemptive power of a relationship between two people.
“I Went to the Store One Day” is the most sincere song on the album, but it doesn’t entirely abandon the album’s detached, cynical tone. Still, the album’s final words, “Seen you around / What’s your name?” leaves listeners with hope for the contentment of a new relationship. Honeybear doesn’t have to be sad, because the fact that Tillman expresses such extreme feelings of despair legitimates them while simultaneously pointing out the absurdity of self-absorption and pessimism through its sheer excess. The album quietly leaves listeners with the simple conclusion that everything just might be okay if you have love, however fleeting it might be.