In its piano-ballad gait, baroque-pop raptures and confessional sting, Josh Tillman’s fourth album as the darkly antic Father John Misty often sounds like it was made more than 40 years earlier under yet another name: John Lennon. It’s as if Tillman wrote and arranged these songs under the sumptuous, despairing spell of Lennon’s early-Seventies solo records, with time off for the late-Sixties Zombies and the Beach Boys’ Sunflower.
In “Just Dumb Enough to Try,” Tillman dresses his remorse and amends in Imagine-like curtains of mellotron and spires of slide guitar. Echoes of Mind Games run through the opening track, “Hangout at the Gallows” and the piano-and-reverb framing of Tillman’s helplessness in “The Palace.”
What lifts God’s Favorite Customer beyond homage is Tillman’s slicing, free-associative candor as he examines the cost in sanity and constancy of his craft and touring life. In “Mr. Tillman,” he checks into a hotel room that should have padded walls. “Please Don’t Die” is a flimsy assurance of good sense (“I’ll take it easy with the morbid stuff”) undercut by the singer’s lost-weekend state in the title track. There is no happy ending here. But there is a familiar twist of Lennon in Tillman’s relentless questioning: “We know so little about ourselves,” he sings in the big rock finish, “We’re Only People.” “Now how does that add up?”