Album Review: Father John Misty’s ‘God’s Favorite Customer’

Leonard Cohen is gone, so there’s not much competition: Father John Misty is rock’s most fabulous miserabilist. However much of a nihilistic joker he might have come off on last year’s polarizingly philosophical “Pure Comedy,” he wasn’t kidding around when he promised that its rapid-fire follow-up, “God’s Favorite Customer,” would be “a heartbreak album.” Not that Misty had been pain-avoidant before, but the previous record’s reams of wry intellectualizing made him feel like a guy who’d confined the crisis to his head. Here, he’s moved deep into his chest cavity — and it sounds like an uncomfortable place to live, if a rewarding Airbnb stopover for the rest of us.

On that last epic think piece of an album, the credits might have read: “Music by Elton John; lyrics by Kierkegaard.” One of the pleasures of “God’s Favorite Customer” is that it skews close enough to the simpler essentials of classic, poetic pop that, at times, you can imagine Bernie Taupin as co-writer. Now, as then, Misty — aka Josh Tillman — favors an early ’70s style of singer-songwriter balladry where the piano is struck at a thoughtful quarter-note clip, right before he breaks into his best “Honky Château.” The biggest difference is thematic: He’s gone from being a bit of an existential scold to a loser in love, less concerned with the dissolution of the social-religious order than the breakdown of a marriage, less God-haunted than deeply girl-haunted. And he doesn’t always sound like he’s still standing.

Film Review: 'The Story of a Summer Lover'