Father John Misty-I Love You, Honeybear

Let’s start with a confession – I have never been a big fan of the Fleet Foxes. Somehow, warped as this may be, I hold them collectively responsible (stand up Mumford & Sons, you own a share of this) for the explosion of lank haired, watery indie folk and bearded hipsters that threatened to engulf the music scene a few years back. So the idea of a solo album by the drummer from a band that left me distinctly underwhelmed wasn’t exactly lighting my fire.

So then I did a little digging. J. Tillman was the drummer for the Fleet Foxes, but he was also an acclaimed solo artist in his own right, long before the FF thing started. A solo artist that had released seven albums by the time he underwent some kind of Road to Damascus transformation and became Father John Misty in 2012.

And that’s when things got really interesting – Fear Fun, the first album released under the new moniker introduced us to a different side of Tillman. Edges and flaws. Exposed and human.

And so to I Love You, Honeybear. Jesus Christ. This is good. Not just good in ‘album of the week’ good, but good on a level approaching modern classic. I am not kidding. The thing that strikes you on first listen is the sheer musicality of these songs – Tillman has gone for it in a big way, the shackles have been thrown off and a host of potentially deeply unfashionable influence have been scrambled together to produce something incredible.

Glen Campbell, The Eagles, Clifford T Ward, Elton John (yes, that Elton John) 70s Laurel Canyon soft rock – they are all in there, in the syrupy string drenched arrangements and little melodic flourishes that pop up with dazzling regularity.

And we haven’t even mentioned the singing or Tillman’s lyrics. Tillman really projects when he sings, there is no mumbly, self-conscious half-hearted, softly whispered folksiness on here – he is really fucking going for it. Elton John style. And it’s good, he sounds like a proper singer, not someone apologising for what he has to say.

And the lyrics? Well, this is probably what really pushes the album on to a different level. ‘I Love You, Honeybear’ maps Tillman’s rocky journey on the road to falling in love. But this is no Mills & Boon romance, this is a Bukowski valentine; drugs, booze and insecurity, ‘mascara, blood, ash and cum’. Tillman writes with a wit and eloquence that is beyond most of his peers.

Opening with the title track, Tillman declares his unabashed love singing ‘everything is doomed and nothing will be spared but I love you, Honeybear’ over a lilting, lovelorn backing track and from there, there is no let up – one gorgeously arranged song after the next. Black humour reigns on ‘Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)’; the line ‘ I wanna take you in the kitchen, Lift up your wedding dress someone was probably murdered in’ painting a gleefully lustful scene.

It’s all laid on the line on ‘When You’re Smiling and Astride Me’ – you want lush strings? A choir of cherubs? Done. If it feels right, throw it on there.  I could go on and on – each track a mini-epic of beautifully constructed, country tinged pop music. And then there is ‘Bored In the USA’ – one of those songs that gets people rushing to the guy working in the record store asking ‘who is THAT?’ Go online and check out his performance of this on the Letterman Show. Do it now – truly stunning.

I Love You, Honeybear achieves a number of things. It surpasses anything he has ever done in the past, either in his solo career or with the Fleet Foxes. It probably answers the question which album is the best album of 2015 just two short months into the year.

And most importantly, it pretty much ensures that J. Tillman will never, ever be the butt of drummer jokes again.

An absolute masterpiece.

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)