What makes an artist an artist? The quality of their work? The frequency by which it’s produced? I think it’s how they cope with stress. They process confusing and complex issues through the only way they know how: their art. Therefore, their life becomes their art. So a painting takes on more meaning than oil on a canvas. A song takes on more meaning than notes strung together. It’s an explanation and interpretation of the world around them. In his new album out now, Pure Comedy, Father John Misty uses music to understand the hectic and tumultuous stress of the digital age.
Father John Misty’s new material is not just an artistic interpretation of his life, but of all of our lives. With politics taking a turn for the worse, race tensions rising, religion dividing, and entertainment taking on a more penetrative role that ever, our lives are growing chaotic. Ironically, the album tackles the subject of how media and entertainment can provoke these issues.
“Total Entertainment Forever” specifically addresses the major role entertainment has taken in our lives. I’m specifically reminded of Twitter when I hear it. With Twitter being our main source of news and, ahem, memes, it’s hard to distinguish the ridiculous truth from the believable lies. The upbeat arrangement with driving saxophone and piano surely does entertain, and poses the question of what our lives would look like from an outside perspective. When historians look at the digital age, will they recognize the fake smiles in our Instagram? The made up story on our Facebook? “As the stories replay, this must have been a wonderful place…”
To me, the title track is the most hard-hitting. As the title track, it encapsulates everything he wants to express through the album. The first lines are “The comedy of man starts like this,” recognizing the sheer ridiculousness of our lives. “Our brains are way too big for our mother’s hips.” Really? Our brains start out too big? Living in this world must shrink them… Its rich orchestral arrangements send the song off the dreary planet and into the sky.
It seems that through this album, Father John Misty has taken on a voyeuristic approach. But does his perspective on the digital age come from the outside looking in, or vice versa? Can any of us truly look at our lives from an outside perspective? We can imagine, and through “Pure Comedy,” Father John Misty gives us the blessing and curse of being even more aware of our environment.