As far as concept albums go, Father John Misty’s (a.k.a. Josh Tillman’s) sophomore album, “I Love You, Honeybear,” is fairly straightforward in its driving theme — Josh Tillman himself.
Coming together to form a sort of narrative self portrait, “I Love You, Honeybear” sees Tillman weaving anecdotes from his life, gripes with contemporary society and thoughts on his marriage into his songs. More complex in narrative and theme than Misty’s debut album, “Fear Fun,” “I Love You, Honeybear” gracefully avoids a sophomore slump and demonstrates an exciting musical evolution.
The album opens with the grand, balladic opening chords of the eponymous song, “I Love You, Honeybear.” A sweeping apocalyptic love song, this track explores frontman Tillman’s deep cynicism and disillusionment with American society with lines such as “We’re naked, getting high on the mattress/ While the global market crashes.” At the same time, however, Tillman delivers a sort of touchingly grand declaration of love and lust in the face of a crumbling world order and crippling postmodern ennui.
And in many ways, the song “I Love You, Honeybear” works as a neat summary or teaser for the full album — the themes of this track carry through the rest of the album in often less condensed, richly-layered forms. While songs such as “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)” and “True Affection” address Tillman’s relationship with his wife, “Bored in the U.S.A.” delivers a deeply bitter criticism of American consumerist society as Tillman belts, “They gave me a useless education/ And a subprime loan/ On a craftsman home.”
Since the album’s concept is his own life, the tracks can become uncomfortably personal when he reveals his innermost thoughts — not because they’re particularly intimate, but because they’re a little revolting. In “The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apartment,” in which Tillman recounts the events of a one-night stand, he sings, “She says, like literally, music is the air she breaths/ And the malaprops make me want to fucking scream/ I wonder if she even knows what that word means.” The lines are funny, but when Tillman concludes with the line “I obliged later on when you begged me to choke you” the humor running through the track can be drowned out by boredom with his nitpicky, angsty criticism of his lover.
“I Love You, Honeybear” grapples with a complex set of topics and often, it succeeds in saying something poignant, whether that something is about Tillman, all-American capitalist disillusionment or love.
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