‘Chloë and the Next 20th Century’ thrills fans 

Father John Misty performing on stage in front of a red background.
Joshua Tillman, better known as Father John Misty, is back after a five year hiatus with new album “Chloë and the New Twentieth.” (Photo courtesy of Creative Commons)

Josh Tillman, the man behind the stage name Father John Misty, released his fifth studio album Friday. The glamorously promoted “Chloë and the Next 20th Century,” preceded by months of cryptic video teasers on the artist’s Instagram, comes highly anticipated after a substantial hiatus from the studio and the internet. 

After a five-year-long mysterious disappearance from social media and a sizable gap in album releases, Misty’s exciting  impending return held all the importance of a prophet returning to proclaim the destiny of the world.

However, as the curtains pull back to reveal the sage himself, listeners discover a different Father John Misty than the one we last encountered. Head shaved of his characteristic mane and wild beard trimmed to a handsome cut, the so-called oldest man in folk rock seems to have transformed into the classiest man in Old Hollywood swing. 

This new look complements the narrative of “Chloë,” a surprising departure from Misty’s signature pessimism. The album’s masterful orchestration and grand symphonic backing replace the artist’s prior unhinged navigation through the benders of debauchery and the funtimes of folk rock. 

The album is an elaborate production, embracing the glamor and scale of early 20th century entertainment, and Misty leans into this role. He commits to the part, tossing out his old skin of a mushroom-loving madman and donning a neat suit and loafers instead to gracefully dance in. 

With its commanding string, lively piano and trumpeting intrepidity and a backing that holds a nearly equal share of the stage with Misty’s soulful crooning, the album creates its own shimmering world, inviting us into a timeless concert performance. Resigning Misty’s past efforts to stir up and poke fun with his music, “Chloë” sets off to achieve a more straightforward goal: to entertain.

The album opens with “Chloë,” immediately transporting us to 1920s Hollywood with its jazzy, swingy instrumentation and the tale it tells of the singer’s infatuation with a beautiful, yet unattainable woman. The sardonic twists are the only thing that betray the Tillman beneath the tuxedo. 

“Chloë is a borough socialist / She insists there’s not much more to it / Than drinks with a certain element / Of downtown art criticism,” sings Misty. Then, to finish the swell of the bridge, “Her soul is a pitch black expanse.”

Constant throughout the album are the singer’s woeful lamentations for a lover he continuously fails to attain. Though not an unfamiliar sentiment to Misty’s discography, “Chloë” provides a fresh twist on the narrative, telling it from the perspective of this performer of Hollywood’s golden age, remaining committed to the setting the album situates itself in.

The symphonic pizzazz remains present throughout the album, from the doleful saxophone solos of “Buddy’s Rendezvous” to the full-swing orchestral interlude of “Funny Girl.” So fully does “Chloë” embody the grandiloquence of the period it emulates, and so dutifully does Misty embody the heartsick crooner on stage, that the album nearly glosses over his occasional wry jousts at society.

Though not as overt, the sardonic wit in lyricism and general cynicism that Misty is known for still appear throughout the album — like flags Misty waves to remind us that he’s still the same Josh Tillman he always was, albeit groomed and tuxedoed. 

Not surprisingly tongue-in-cheek is the entirety of “Q4,” which jauntily tells the story of a writer who exploits the misery of their deceased sister with a “semi-memoir” which then tops the charts, earning reviews of “deeply funny.” So jubilant is the swelling of the symphony behind Misty, that his snide commentary on the exploitations that define our entertainment systems may initially be overlooked.

Stunning moments of lyrical wisdom are also snuck into the album’s stories of offered and refused affection, reminders of Misty’s strength in powerful lyricism, bettered by expert placement and delivery. 

“Only a Fool” boasts these strengths near the finale of an otherwise simple narrative. Misty sings of love making fools of us all, then posits, “The wisdom of the ages / From Gita to Abraham / Was written by smitten, lonely sages / Too wise to ever take a chance.”

In the strikingly vulnerable “Kiss Me (I Loved You),” Misty follows a fairly undecorated chorus with the beautiful line, “Love is much less a mystery / Than who you give it to.” 

These lyrical strong points offer just enough puncture to the Old Hollywood role Misty steps into, proving the depth behind this act of a humble performer on another era’s stage, showcasing Misty’s strengths without straying from the album’s exclusion of his cynical tendencies.

“Chloë” subdues Misty’s love of poking fun at our systems, reflecting a resignation to a perhaps futile pessimism. The album’s last track, “The Next 20th Century,” confirms the election for entertainment that pleasures over the condemnations of a society that will, unfortunately, not improved by anyone’s rage.

Despite Father John Misty’s many qualms with the way of things and his signature belief that there’s no hope in fixing them, “Chloë and the Next 20th Century” marks, if only temporarily, a resignation to his futile pushbacks, opting instead to provide entertainment along the rocky way with grand achievements in sound and timeless tales of being in love.

Rating: 4/5