I’ve listened to this 8 or 9 times through now. The two main feelings I take from it are almost diametrically opposed. Namely, that the album has a singular, almost gravitational pull that makes me keep returning to it. BUT: it is simply too long, too one-note, too musically unadventurous. It is also for great swathes of run time, unexpectedly, quite humourless.
From reading interviews surrounding the release, it seems as though those things are intentional. He’s said, intriguingly, that entertainment is about forgetting and art is about remembering. In that illustration, entertainment is easy and art is difficult. I think he’s followed that thought through to its logical conclusion and gone to great lengths to make Pure Comedy a ‘difficult’ listen. When you read interviews where he noticeably bristles at the perception of himself as not taking his music seriously, that seems even more likely.
Feels like he’s being Serious with a capital S.
That’s not to say it isn’t enjoyable. But the pace and low-key nature of this long (long!) album can only be by design, it can feel like a war of attrition, and seems to resist the idea of just throwing it on for a listen. You’d better sit down and pay attention to this thing or it will infuriate you. When you think about why that might be - a comment on patience and disposability (particularly given the album’s subject matter) - it’s totally intriguing. I’ve not been drinking recently, and have found something soothing, meditative and calming in what could otherwise seem quite a menacing release.
Unfortunately, in practice, he feels musically and thematically over-stretched, and the album feels front-loaded and samey.
It feels that way even when you start stripping away the deadweight (Leaving Los Angeles is a fine novelty release but neither fits its place mid-way through the album or the tone of the music it’s surrounded by. It’s too self referential and smirky in an album that otherwise leaves that Father John Misty for twitter).
It’s my opinion that this album actually still makes its points, about society and patience, with an abbreviated tracklist. I, for example, cut it down to 9 tracks which still comes in at a weighty 48 minutes.
Seems like on tour, he’s surrounding these songs with dialogue, dancers, performance art, etc. Perhaps in that venue, some of the more meandering stuff makes sense?
In conclusion, cut down to size, I think this is a fascinating release and - for me - preferable to anything else he’s done. But taken as a whole, it’s simply too demanding, too overwhelming, too ‘difficult’ a listen for me.
I think it’s definitely art, and as you can see, has made me more thoughtful than anything else released this year.