Chip Chrome and the Mono-Tones
The Neighbourhood’s alter ego: Chip Chrome and the Mono-Tones, and an album nobody was ready for. Or maybe we all were, especially ever since the Californian band teased us by dropping the Middle of Somewhere track back in August 2019. This was the first official video featuring the grey alien and it was when we knew they were up to something.
It took the band another year to release the whole album, following the separate release of (my personal favourite) Cherry Flavoured and Devil’s Advocate (although the project had been in the making for 3 years).
It is their 4th and final studio album recorded with Columbia Records. Interpreting the situation metaphorically, this could be seen as a sign of a new beginning for the band, starting from the obvious difference in their appearance.
The release of this album was a silver lining in all the uncertainty that a global pandemic posed to artists and fans. Cultural and entertainment events were paused for months and this hit the music industry hard. The latter comprises two main revenue streams: live performances and recorded music. Lockdown made live performances impossible which means that revenue from this sector was almost equal to zero.
We witnessed artists delaying the release of their albums and tours. BTS postponed their Map of the Soul world tour, the release of Lady Gaga’s Chromatica album was postponed, and The Weeknd’s After Hours tour was postponed to 2021.
Desperate times call for creative measures. We saw this in the online concerts from the comfort of the artists’ homes — examples include Meghan Trainor’s Live From Home charity tour facilitated by Epic Records, and the innovative black-mirror-like intertextuality observed through Travis Scott’s appearance and performance on Fortnite back in April. The event brought the remarkable 27.7 million visitors to the video game.
When I first saw the Chip Chrome character last year, it surely got me confused. The confusion was deepened when Jesse Rutherford, the band’s frontman, disappeared from social media for quite some time. Naturally, we could all sense that something BIG was coming.
This reminds me of another idol of mine — The Weeknd took a break from social media, too. Next thing we knew, his Blinding Lights track has now been on Billboard Hot 100 for 28 weeks, and broke the record for most weeks in Hot 100’s Top Five.
Chip Chrome is admittedly inspired by David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust. The Chip character was a result of a 9-month-long social media free life devoted to reflecting on Jesse’s own relationship with his band, fans and himself, and to writing songs with his acoustic guitar.
“Bowie was Ziggy, and Ziggy was a character very addicted to cocaine — and I would say that Chip is addicted to the internet, a product of addiction from social media for so many years,” — Rutherford for Apple Music.
I can’t help but question, is this the character who is the closest to Jesse, his most authentic self? And could authenticity and celebrity be in the same sentence? Is Chip the ‘product’ which Jesse should have never become? If Chip Chrome is the result of social media addiction, then should we be happy with this new persona? Is it there to demonstrate that Jesse is no longer addicted and has come back with a new art? Or is it there to bless us with some valuable lessons?
So many questions, but one thing is for sure: Jesse is no longer there. It’s Chip from now on, for better or worse.
I killed @jesserutherford when I turned 27. Dead at 27. — Rutherford for Interview Magazine.
What I like about Chip is that his appearance is not only opinion-free, but also free from glamour and posture. The simplicity of his make-up and costume make him mysterious and intriguing, difficult to figure out, and yet so exciting.
Listening to the 11 tracks is a whole experience which makes me feel nostalgic and excited at the same time. Nostalgic because this experimental new style of the band is evidently different from what we know, beginning with the new name. I don’t know if it’s just a phase or whether we’d better get used to it.
We can observe a shift towards a 70’s inspired alternative rock style subtly presented in a futuristic sci-fi atmosphere. The chrome grey Chip Chrome is the main figure and the bizarre and mysterious character completing the outlandish and alternate universe that the album is presenting to us. How I love the combination of futurism and nostalgia!
These changes are rather ironic given the name of their 2018 compilation: Hard to Imagine The Neighbourhood Ever Changing. Well, they’ve changed.
In fact, this is not the first time we witness a shift from ‘normal’ with them. The Neighbourhood have always been notorious for their sad black and white colours. Hard to Imagine The Neighbourhood Ever Changing presented a coloured album cover identical with the one of the The Neighbourhood album.
The songs on their latest album touch on deep and reflective thoughts ranging from the importance of love, the relationship with oneself, the need to slow down and take some time to appreciate the world outside social media, taking control of your own life, and even Jesse’s relationship with Devon Carlson.
And yet, there is an aspect which never changes — The Neighbourhood’s songs have always been thought-provoking and have always made me feel and relate, regardless of the style, which by the way never fails to impress me. They’ve managed to preserve the sad boys vibes, though. At the end of the day, this is what makes them them.
Being very picky when it comes to music, there aren’t many artists whose music can give me the chills. The Neighbourhood’s different-from-everything-out-there and Californian-cool-sad-boys vibes, their natural and unique art make them my all-time favourite.
With the dates of their 2021 tour being set, I can only wish them good luck and hope that the circumstances will be as close to ‘normal’ as possible for a successful tour. In the meantime, I will be reminiscing of the spectacular show they put up in London in 2019.
Until I can see them again…