While the young bands plunder the 1980s for every last gobbet of tinny synth and hi-hat, the singer-songwriters remain happily anchored in that much more agreeable decade which came directly before. The 1970s was the era of the introspective, self-pitying, prolix, hairy and winsome singer-songwriter — both the good ones (Young, Martyn, Buckley) and the, ahem, less gifted (Taylor, Forbert, Stevens). Father John Misty, aka Joshua Tillman and once the drummer in the most boring and epicene band I have ever seen (Fleet Foxes), is all of those adjectives I mention above. On this album the production values are purloined from mid-1975, right down to the occasional spasm of glam guitar, the tasteful piano, the strummed acoustic, the strings. Listen and you’ll hear early Elton John, mid-period Paul Simon, whiffs of Lou Reed and Warren Zevon. Piano snatches from Debussy, smooth production that is sometimes too smooth and brings to mind those numbing saps Gallagher & Lyle. Oh, and the usual self-flagellation of the singer-songwriter.
And yet it is unequivocally magnificent. There is not a bad track. Witty, melodically clever and beguiling, from the restrained thrash of ‘Date Night’ to the beautiful and funereal ‘The Palace’. The lead single, the inevitably self-referencing ‘Mr Tillman’, has hooks where you least expect them and, get this, a whistled solo. How do you like that, Roger Whittaker? There is a bit of 1970s bombast too, in the lovely ‘Disappointing Diamonds Are The Rarest Of All’. I am not entirely sure what he is on about, some of the time. But this is the best album of the year so far, by some margin.
Subscribe to The Spectator Australia today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Subscribe – Try a month free