Coca Cola in a glass bottle. Lennon and Yoko. The Free Love Movement. Nixon and Ford. The Anti-War Protests. Disco fever. The 1970s. Father John Misty has crafted for us a summer song that mixes pure vintage sounds with a nostalgic trip back to that bygone era. “Real Love Baby” acts as a soundtrack to that lionized decade of flower crowns, circular shades and bike handle ribbons. This is a song that could be easily found in the My Girl soundtrack or in a throwback commercial for a household product harkening back to its glory days. That is to say there is a certain jingle to the way “Real Love” plays. The feedback-laden vocals and the repetitious chorus motivate a contagious bout of finger snapping and feet tapping. It’s a song that sticks itself into your head and buries itself in there like a welcomed audible host.
But there’s an effervescent cheeriness to “Real Love Baby” that I can’t just shake. It’s actually shocking in an odd way. And that’s because the song’s temperament is a huge departure from the meandering and sometimes raw, emotional core of Father John Misty’s most recent album, I Love You Honey Bear. In this song, Tillman achingly coos, “I’m a flower, you’re my bee/It’s much older than you and me/I’m in love, I’m alive/I belong to the stars and sky”. That sense of nirvana-like affectation seems so disconnected from the dark, brooding bodies of his previous work. Yet, that dissonance would be more jarring if the song wasn’t so damn good to begin with. “Real Love Baby” is the definition of an infectious summer montage tune, with just enough hints of instrumentation in the light drum beat, guitar licks, and tambourine taps that keeps the pulses of this song kicking to life from the very beginning.
Yes, “Real Love Baby” is a gentle rock ballad that calls back to a supposedly idealized moment in time. But I also have to mention Tillman’s evangelical background because “Real Love Baby” sings like a Sunday hymn. The layered choruses praised throughout and the repetitive nature of its song structure lend some credence to this argument. I could almost envision myself standing in a pew, belting out these lines with a rousing congregation, feeling right at home. And maybe that’s what Father John Misty was going for with “Real Love Baby” – a transcendental distraction that is trojan horsed into the structure of a ’70’s love ballad. That, or maybe I’m reading into it too much. Just give the damn song a listen already and decide for yourself.