When Father John Misty announced that his second album under that name would be both a concept album and something of an unashamed open love letter to his wife, I felt a slight twinge of uncertainty. Had Father John Misty gone off the deep end? Would this album be just too ridiculous for words? Is self-indulgence ever a good thing? On 'I Love You, Honeybear', the artist formerly known as Josh Tillman (ex-Fleet Foxes drummer) demonstrates that the answer to all three of those questions is probably a resounding 'yes', but sometimes pompous, ridiculous albums are just the best.
It begins with a title track which acts like a perfect overture for the rest of the album, as it demonstrates almost all of the sounds showcased throughout in microcosm. You get delicate acoustic guitars interplaying with gently fingered piano keys, which mutate into blustering melodrama by the conclusion; you get tasteful string arrangements that both compliment and drive the song into the stratosphere, you get Tillman's deep, soulful voice and you get amazing referential lyrics such as, 'You're bent over the altar and the neighbours are complaining that the misanthropes next door are probably conceiving a Damien'. If that isn't one of the greatest lines ever written, I don't know what is - the man has quite a way with words.
Up next is recent single 'Chateau Lobby #4 (In C for Two Virgins)', perhaps the most saccharine moment of the LP. This mariachi assisted blast of folk pop is somehow mellow and smooth while also being more upbeat than a Duracell bunny on crack. It is also somehow sickeningly sentimental while staying pretty tasteful.
Elsewhere on the album, Tillman/Misty experiments in waters totally untouched on his first LP, 'Fear Fun'. On 'True Affection' he employs electronic beats to underpin a swirling string arrangement and densely layered vocal harmonies to striking effect. On 'When You're Smiling' and 'Astride Me' he puts in a genuine turn as a soul singer which wouldn't have been out of place on a Bobby Womack album. 'Bored In The USA' is a downtrodden piano ballad which didn't really work as a single but in the context of the album is captivating and heartbreaking. It includes another of his brilliant, expertly delivered lyrics with the line 'How many people rise and think: "oh good, the stranger's body is still here; our arrangement hasn't changed"'. Tillman's imagination refuses to sit still, and it's glorious.
Perhaps the greatest achievement of 'I Love You, Honeybear' is that it sticks together as a cohesive whole. Father John Misty has offered a glimpse through his eyes and created a universe of sounds and ideas that are completely unlike anything else presently out there. 'I Love You, Honeybear' also represents a huge step up from his impressive debut, 'Fear Fun'. Gone is the bluegrass filler material and in its place is just high quality, cinematic and beautifully orchestrated folk pop. This will be one of the albums of the year.
5/5 - Ben Walton