By: Carter Zumtobel
“I Love You, Honeybear,” the second album released by Father John Misty, the moniker J. Tillman gave himself after a particularly visceral experience with some psychedelic mushrooms, was released on Feb. 10 to what has been nearly universal acclaim. Yet most reviews rely mostly on the origin story and strength of the persona that has been created by Tillman to justify their high praise.
The music is more of an afterthought, which seems inappropriate given the accolades like “Best New Music” and “Album of the Week” that have been showering “I Love You, Honeybear.” They fail to take into account that although Tillman is entertaining in a live setting, and can write a press release that confuses and entertains, the album on its own is not anything that special.
As a lyricist, he relies on his liberal arts school vocabulary, sometimes scathing satire and the contrast between the sacred and secular imagery that is littered throughout his songs in an attempt to bring you into his world.
The songs are, with one exception, written about his recent marriage, or in someway related to his wife. Intertwined with gooey love-note lines, such as “My love you’re the one I want to watch the ship go down with” are more complicated declarations of love; “Maybe love is just an economy based on resource scarcity/ But I fail to see what that’s gotta do with you and me,” and realizations of the potential brevity of his success; “By this afternoon I’ll live in debt/ And by tomorrow be replaced by children.” He is not the most consistent lyricist, but he has at least intrigued listeners enough to earn him a top spot on the front page of SongMeanings.com.
Some standout tracks on the album are “Bored in the U.S.A.,” a ballad about American consumerism, and the future irrelevance of everything we care about, adorned with a full orchestra and a laugh track.
“The Ideal Husband,” the most aggressive song on the album, is a brutal confession of wrongdoings, where he shows you what he has become by showing what he used to be.
And finally, the standout in a way that makes you question why it is even on the album, is “True Affection.” It’s a critique of the way that we rely so heavily on technology to communicate, and the value of face-to-face communication. In some grand form of irony, this song is the one entirely electronic track, with drum machines and synthesizers, backing up the most pop style vocal melody on the album.
One thought that has been shared among the other reviewers is the musical kinship that Tillman shares with the singer-songwriters of the 70’s that also came out of Laurel Canyon.
While it is surely respectable to be mentioned alongside such names as Randy Newman or Harry Nilsson, shouldn’t artists be striving to innovate and to be beyond comparison? This album could have been released in the 70’s and no fuss would have been made over the mix of sounds that it holds within, so why is it such a big deal now?
He put a mariachi horn on a folk song! He has swear words in his song titles! He put a guitar solo on a ballad! I am not denying the fact that the songs are good, they are mostly fun, sometimes catchy, and you usually are left thinking about something. But the album comes off like an inside joke, but I’m not sure if I am in on it or not.