Father John Misty is a man with an impressive résumé. Born Joshua Tillman, he has worked with everyone from Fleet Foxes to Har Mar Superstar to Jonathan Wilson, and is now readying the release of Pure Comedy, his third solo album. ‘Total Entertainment Forever,’ its fourth single, was premiered as Tillman made an oddly polarising Saturday Night Live appearance, however it’s frankly difficult to see why he is considered so divisive.
In both summation and broad musical terms, ‘Total Entertainment Forever’ is lovely. Really lovely. The whole track gives a vibe of slightly off-kilter sunny pop rock from the late 1960s or early 1970s; the enthusiastically strummed acoustic guitars coalesce with boogie-woogie piano, bass and drum grooves, and lap steel guitars, creating a country rock-esque soundscape that slowly builds in layers and intensity as the track continues. Tillman also crafts some genuinely warming melodies that wrap around the song’s lolloping grooves and give a sense of familiarity without being derivative.
This sunny musical structure is almost entirely at odds with the song’s lyrical content however, where Tillman crafts a literary but scathing sarcastic comment upon modern life and technological emptiness. Opening with a frankly fascinating couplet – “Bedding Taylor Swift / Every night inside the Oculus Rift” – Tillman continues to deconstruct our relationships with mass media, isolating technology with a pessimistic if intriguingly written set of powerful images, not least, “When the historians find us we’ll be in our homes / Plugged into our hubs.” This state-of-the-nation address on mankind’s possible doomed future, wrapped in the warming nostalgia of the song’s backing, is an effective juxtaposition and certainly feels more incisive, especially given how much our current social and political turmoil in the modern world is seemingly based off a desire to return to a mythic past. In terms of political turmoil, Tillman is an artist who seems to have been profoundly affected by America’s shocking new presidency and has certainly put his money where his mouth is considering both his recent onstage speeches against his country’s scary state of affairs and the powerful lyrical content of his recent work, including the record’s title track.
While criticisms seem to abound that Tillman is an insincere hipster of middling ability (which, frankly, seems to be more a smokescreen from people who prefer their entertainers to never speak out on issues and to merely perform), ‘Total Entertainment Forever’ instead provides masses of evidence to the contrary. His emotional tenor sees him rallying against a scary world with melodic aplomb and concluding with the pained narrator resigning himself against jaunty brass. On the whole, it is a beautiful statement from Father John Misty that, along with his previous singles, bodes excitingly for his new album.
‘Total Entertainment Forever’ is out now via Bella Union
Father John Misty's latest state-of-the-nation address is full of literary observations and beautifully charming melodies and remains an effective comment from an artist on the top of his game.