“I Love You, Honeybear” by Father John Misty is a collection of songs about love.
But Josh Tillman, the man behind Misty, is no Cole Porter. His perspective on love, romance and commitment had been skewed by time spent avoiding all of the above, fleeing intimacy and pursuing other string-free gratifications.
Then he met a woman who changed everything. And became his wife. “Honeybear” is their story. It loosely chronicles time leading up to Tillman’s unexpected plunge into true love and the vulnerability that comes with it. And he articulates it all in language that is candid, bawdy, colorful and evocative.
The title track opens “Honeybear,” the second full-length Father John Misty album and the follow-up to the excellent “Fear Fun,” released in 2012. It finds the couple deep in love, despite the world that is crashing all around them. After an opening verse that describes the sheets on their bed as Rorschach stained, he gets to the point: Love is a shield, a sanctuary.
“Everything is doomed / And nothing will be spared,” he sings. “But everything is fine / Don’t give into despair / Because I love you, Honeybear.”
The music on “Honeybear,” Spin magazine’s “Album of the Week” and a pick for Entertainment Weekly’s “Must List” this week, hops genres and eras. In its grander, more orchestral moments, it evokes the work of Harry Nilsson. It’s a mix of the organic — horns, strings, piano, organ, hand claps, lush background vocals — and the synthetic — bits and shards of electronica scattered about, especially on “True Affection,” one of the album’s two duds. The single, “Bored in the USA,” is the other. It has its lyrical and melodic charms but doesn’t mesh thematically with the rest of the album.
A few song titles imply that theme, like “When You’re Smiling and Astride Me,” a libidinous line he follows with: “I can hardly believe I found you / And I’m terrified by that.”
“Honeybear” delves into Tillman’s life before love, providing contrast to his present state of bliss. The lovely and lilting “The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apartment” opens with a screed about a woman: “She says, Like, literally, music is the air she breathes / And the malaprops make me wanna (bleeping) scream / I wonder if she even knows what that word means / Well, it’s ‘literally’ not that.” And then: “Of the few main things I hate about her / One’s her petty, vogue ideas.”
But he’s tired of all that, the boredom of the aimless pursuit. In “The Ideal Husband,” the album’s lone rock moment, Tillman confesses to sins and declares he’s ready for a change. He has said and done awful things, but he’s tired of running and ready to settle: “Let’s put a baby in the oven / Wouldn’t I make an ideal husband?”
The album closes with “I Went to the Store One Day,” which chronicles Tillman’s real-life meeting with the woman who would become his wife (Emma Garr, a cinematographer). Without a whiff of sappy sentiment or cliche, he describes the consequences of the leap he has taken: “Now in just one year’s time / I’ve become jealous, rail-thin, prone to paranoia when I’m stoned / If this isn’t true love / Someone ought to put me in a home.”
He ends the song by recapturing the pivotal moment they met, a random, chance moment that changed their lives. His language is simple and tender: “All ’cause I went to the store one day / ‘I’ve seen you around / What’s your name?’”