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Any attempt at writing an objective album review for I Love You, Honeybear went out the window when I first heard “Bored In the USA.” Father John Misty has crafted an album that feels like it was created with the critic in mind. It has received unanimous praise across the board, and it’s probably going to be voted as one of the best albums of the year—granted we’re barely 45 days in.
It is the relatability of this album that makes it so successful. This is to say you understand this album’s place in the cosmos that is rock. He has been compared to Springsteen, Nilsson, Beck, Randy Newman, Elton John, The Beatles, Sufjan Stevens, Neil Young, The Eagles (which fuck the dude that made this comparison), The Flying Burrito Bros., and The Clash, if only because they have a song called “I’m So Bored With the USA.” I’m surprised that no one has mentioned Todd Rundgren or Elvin Bishop, but I guess that’s my point. We all have our own personal associations that we can project onto this album; and for each it can be true.
It is interesting to see so many comparisons made to the great artists above while barely making any mention of the way he sounds. The few times that it was mentioned, the descriptions were sparse and enigmatic: The guitars are both scalding and snarling like a dog on a hot stove. The horns are corny, the orchestrations are sumptuous; making a study in opposites. One reviewer noted that there is a piano, another noted that he is a tenor.
Most reviews have focused on the lyrics, and those of four songs specifically: “Chateau Lobby #4,” “The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apartment,” “Bored In The USA,” and “Nothing Good Ever Happens at the God Damn Thirsty Crow.” At least three reviews cited his line about Craftsman Homes from “Bored,” while neglecting that he offered to buy a Plantation home in “I Went to the Store One Day.” What gives?
The album is definitely adjective worthy—“acerbic, ambitious, angry, bitterly cathartic, bombastic, caustically funny, conflicted, cynical, disillusioned, Disney schmaltz, dynamic, earnest, empathic, grimly funny, ironic, layered, likably schmaltzy, literate, lush, passionate, self-loathing, tender.” All these vague descriptors were thrown around as if they meant something. Ironically, he has also been called wordy. I’d just call it brilliant.
Notably, for an album called I Love You, Honeybear, most of our dear friend’s adjectives cast a negative pall, as if that’s the only mode this album plays in. Considering that he wrote this album in the midst of courtship with the woman who would come to be his wife, any description would be lacking without mentioning that this is the album that he wrote in the midst of courtship with the woman who would come to be his wife. Without doing so, you might think FJM is a bit of an asshole. At least now you know.
And, contrary to what you might be thinking, the album does have a happy ending in “I Went To The Store One Day.” He gets the girl in the end in perhaps the best song on the album. It has what made Vampire Weekend’s “Hannah Hunt” the song of the year in 2013, that certain I don’t know what. You certainly could use the album review space to make some big deal out of his relationship with his wife: what once was personal has been made universal, all boiled down to one simple bridge in one song—“For love to find us of all people/I never thought it’d be so simple.” Or, then again, maybe you don’t.
Confronted as we are with a great album it seems that we have run out of meaningful things to say. I can’t imagine transporting back to the nineteen-seventies and reviewing Honky Chateau or After The Gold Rush—what would I say hearing those songs fresh? How could I react to “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” or “Only Love Can Break Your Heart?” Christ, what would I say to the public about Blonde on Blonde or Rubber Soul? Would the horns on “Rainy Day Women” be corny? Or “In My Life” be “likably schmaltzy?”
Guilty as I am of all of these crimes, I’m not sure I could do that to this album. I don’t know if I agree or disagree with the above diagnoses, but I do agree that this is an album worth listening to. I’ve had it for just two days now and I’ve listened to it maybe six or seven times now, the two singles before that were on a loop, the Letterman performance seen more times than I’ve watched Letterman. To put it simply, I really like this album.
FURTHER READING/WORKS CITED:
Article by: Christopher Gilson