Last Christmas, something rather funny happened between my girlfriend and I. In my attempts to buy her a gift that would act as an extension to her birthday gift earlier that year, a record player I had purchased from a local store, I missed the clues that we were both looking for the same gift. In my own way, I followed the footsteps of people and have done the same when it comes to this album and missed the point entirely at first chance.
Josh Tillman, the man behind the persona Father John Misty, has called I Love You, Honeybear a concept album, but on first listen it’s hard to understand what that concept may be. Dealing with heavy themes like death, love, and finding purpose one may find it hard to pinpoint where the persona ends and the man behind it begins. The first song is the titular I Love You, Honeybear is deceptively sweet, a beat that you can bob your head to and play while you drive perhaps, making you miss the moments when Misty proclaims that “Everything is doomed, and nothing will be spared” slightly mocking couples who think that spreading their love for all to see is what will make others happy.
Yet just as scathing as that may be, it’s followed by Chateau Lobby #4 (in C Minor for Two Virgins) which is genuinely heartfelt and sweet. Singing of the time he and his wife Emma explored Los Angeles together,a soft mariachi beat carries us through line after line as he makes those same references and in-jokes he just mocked.
The contradictions subside when you reach what may be my favorite song on the album, When You’re Smiling and Astride Me, a look at not only his own relationship but how over time we mature with the ones we love. This short ballad is actual romance in an album when you’re questioning if it really is an album on love. A promise that he’d never be anything other than himself to the woman who sees him as he truly is.
It is the last three songs on the album, however, where the real gold lies however.
Bored In The U.S.A parallels the Bruce Springsteen song of similar name, Born In The U.S.A, on how it examines the problems of the middle-class. People going to jobs they hate, where they waste possible talent, and a “useless education.” Add an obvious laugh track that makes you realise the importance of the uncomfortable situations and how we find ourselves constantly trying to get out of them.
Follow this with the romantically contradictory song Holy Shit, written on the day Tillman married his wife. Like a stranger looking at someone’s life he realises that who he is at this moment of great importance in his life is the opposite of the womanizer he use to be. “Oh, and no one ever really knows you and life is brief,” he laments stating how this moment is cosmically unimportant. “So I’ve heard, but what’s that gotta do with this black hole in me?” he continues, posing the argument that no matter what he can still find happiness in that small moment.
Finally we end with I Went to the Store One Day, where the persona and man meet, detailing the day he met his wife for the first time, what is today, all the way to their death. He never thought the day would come when he would meet some that he loved as much as this, so sure that he states “if this isn’t true love someone ought to put me in a home.” The satire and cynical nature that surrounds his idea of love and life melt away when he talks about his wife, and we’re left the being of their relationship, the first thing Emma said to her future husband, as a ending line (possibly leaving you in a mess of tears like it does to me every time).
“Seen you around, what’s your name?”