The Listener

Humour, sweetness and sincerity: Father John Misty's Chloë and the Next Twentieth Century reviewed

23 April 2022

9:00 AM

23 April 2022

9:00 AM

 Grade: A–

In which Josh Tillman reimagines the whole back catalogue of 20th-century American pop music (except for rock), tilting heavily in favour of the 1930s-1950s. Lush strings, polite jazz and sometimes cocktail piano, big band stuff etc., plus the expected Tillman mordant humour and some unexpected sweetness and sincerity. There’s the country torch of Patsy Cline on ‘Kiss Me (I Loved You)’, the cabaret samba of ‘Olvidado (Otro Momento)’, Rodgers’ and Hart’s ‘My Funny Valentine’ homage on ‘Funny Girl’, and what we’re told is an attempt to kind of rewrite Fred Neil’s ‘Everybody’s Talkin’’ on ‘Goodbye Mr Blue’. The problem? If you hold yourself up before a century of classics on a single album, you’re bound to fall short. Tillman is a very good songwriter, but nowhere is there quite the tingle you get from those first few chord changes of, say, ‘Everybody’s Talkin’’ or ‘My Funny Valentine’: that moment when you suddenly realise you are listening to a song touched by greatness. Tillman compensates by rather overwriting, adding a sometimes ectoplasmic complexity to the song structures; but a change of key, or a convoluted bridge, does not compensate for a defining moment of genius – it simply makes the lack of that spark more noticeable. Still, I can’t think of any contemporary talent who could have come closer than Tillman does here and all of the songs have enough to pull you in for a while. Just not quite enough to be reimagined themselves 70 years from now, I suspect. Inspirational lyric: ‘The Nazis we hired for our wedding band played your anthem like I wasn’t there.’

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