Perhaps, it’s hard for me to imagine The Neighbourhood ever changing. However, in their new album Chip Chrome & The Mono-Tones, I awaited something more from the band that has gifted us with gems such as “Sweater Weather”, “Daddy Issues” and others. Uninspired and bland, it is an album that fails to provide the listener with the same energy and charisma that other The Neighbourhood’s albums have delivered.
In Chip Chrome & The Mono-Tones, the listeners find the band’s frontman Jesse Rutherford transform into the character Chip Chrome and the band into the Mono-Tones. According to Rutherford, this album was an attempt to produce a happier version of The Neighbourhood. Indeed, the album is filled with upbeat tunes that (sometimes) deal with more complicated issues. However, they are not exactly memorable or innovative in terms of the band’s earlier successes.
The introduction track is a 29-second audio version of a loading screen, preparing the listener for a more electronic sound. As the notes, rise up, we are gradually immersed in the world of Chip Chrome & The Mono-Tones. Generally, I enjoy instrumental opening tracks that set the atmosphere for the following songs — that is under the condition, that the track has a repeated listening quality. With “Chip Chrome”, however, I don’t see myself playing this more than the few times I’ve listened to the album in full.
Next, comes on “Pretty Boy” — a slow, romantic ballad about the beauty of having a significant other. In a soft voice, Rutherford sings, “Even if my heart stops beating / You’re the only thing I need,” serenading his lover and letting her know of his love. Lyrically, the song is sweet and simple, with melodic guitar riffs accompanying Rutherford’s voice.
Of course, it is not necessary for a love song to carry a deep meaning. Nevertheless, The Neighbourhood is a band that frequently touches upon the theme of love in their music and the repetitive lyrics seem rather bland.
Lost In Translation
“Lost In Translation” begins with an excerpt from “Wish That You Were Mine” by The Manhattans and then, suddenly breaks into an upbeat tune. Considering the title, as well as the lyrics, the song touches upon the issues with communication that Chip/Rutherford has had with his partner. Singing “I’ve been gettin’ lost in translation / Trouble keepin’ up communication,” he explores the way he is tired of attempting to interpret the mixed signals his partner is giving.
Despite the more serious topic of the lyrics, the song is upbeat melodically. With dreamy synth sounds and cheerful guitar serving as the instrumental, the tune is quick and danceable. This song is definitely one of the more creative ones on the album, employing the more electronic sound that the band introduced in the opening track.
The fourth track is probably one of my favorites from the album. Preserving the new sound that The Neighbourhood has introduced, this song is unafraid to take chances, lyrically and musically. Accompanied by the high-pitched guitar plucking and a very distinct bassline, Chip/Rutherford sings about settling down. The lyric “Black tie for a white tee,” suggests how he is ready for a more modest life. In fact, this is a reference to “West Coast”, released in 2013, when the band gained popularity with “Sweater Weather”. Perhaps, Chip/Rutherford would like to return to that time, when the band was still relatively unknown.
Even the name of the song denotes the way this idea, to stay unknown rather than famous, is counterintuitive. In a world where many would prefer “designer” to “Nikes”, the band is ready to trade the former for the latter. To some extent, the song bears resemblance to some of the band’s older work, mostly due to the recitative Rutherford uses in the verses.
Hell or High Water
A more slow tune, “Hell or High Water” explores the band’s way to fame. With repetitive guitar struts and a slight static effect, the song is given a more retro feel. The lyrics “I went through Hell, to get to high water / And now I’m tryin’ not to drown” explore the way it takes courage and perseverance to get to fame. However, this struggle does not end when one reaches success — one must put in an effort to stay afloat.
And just like that, the slow outro of the previous song morphs into the next slow ballad. The retro feeling is continued in this song, with an even more noticeable static sizzling and an 80s synth running throughout the whole song. The lyrics deal with Rutherford’s drug abuse — the title could refer to the “sweet and sour motivation” he has in sticking to sobriety. This duality is also seen in the chorus, with the way he’s “been getting high / It’s keeping [him] low now”, referring to the way the euphoria brought to him by drugs turns into a depression.
This is another insight into the flipside of a highly-successful band. Just like the two previous songs explore the desire to return to a more modest life and the effort it takes to keep up the success, this song deals with a more personal issue. To some extent, one could call fame “Cherry Flavoured” — sweet and sour at the same time.
The following song is an interlude, featuring a pitched-up Rutherford singing about the confusion of daily life. In an interview, Rutherford comments on how “The Mono-Tones are the voices in my head that are always there.” This could be tied with the lyric “Voices in my head tellin’ me to make a choice”, which reflects the pressure that he puts onto himself. The one-minute interlude acts as a transition to the second part of the album.
“BooHoo” is a more pop-sounding tune, with a slow, but happy, melody. The electronically-modified voice of Rutherford is accompanied by funky melodies, producing an optimistic track. Featuring a number of lyrical repetitions, the song mainly focuses on the relationship between Chip/Rutherford and his lover.
An interesting detail is the inclusion of various fashion brand names in the second verse. Rutherford sings, “YSL, gave her those shoes and I bought my Céline’s”, referring to the luxurious lifestyle that he is able to provide for his lover. Personally, this song is probably my least favorite. Of course, lyrical simplicity does not always equate mediocrity. Nevertheless, considering The Neighbourhood’s past great lyrics, this song seems rather uninspired.
Another pop-sounding track, “Silver Lining” explores a relationship that has ended. In particular, Rutherford addresses the listener to “find the silver lining” of that unpleasant situation. The guitar struts, that one can hear throughout the song, emphasize the upbeat tune. Although I’ve criticized the album for being too simplistic, I can only praise the musical layers in this song.
In fact, it seems almost meta in the way Rutherford tells the listener to “find the silver lining” as if he is urging them to explore the beautiful layers of this song. The upbeat tempo does not make it a sad song, but an optimistic one. Everything about it makes the listener look on the bright side of things.
“Tobacco Sunburst” is another favorite of mine from the album. The slow struts of the acoustic guitar pair up with haunting, high-pitched notes of the synth. Rutherford sings in a melancholic manner, drawing out the words. In a way, this song reminds me of something by Cigarettes After Sex, especially when the cello melody becomes louder during the chorus.
The moody ballad touches upon the notion of leaving and then returning to a person — eyes become an important symbolism, as they could denote honesty in a relationship. Rutherford sings about how he is “Lookin’ in your green eyes / Never knew I’d need your help”, addressing a lover in a plea for their help. Whether the song relates to his drug problem or any other personal issue, it is deeply personal and heartfelt.
For me, this is one of the best songs on Chip Chrome & The Mono-Tones not only because of the personal lyrics but also because of the use of the music. The haunting cello melodies, the slow synths and the quiet struts of the acoustic guitar all blend into one. In my opinion, this song is the best example of what type of sound The Neighbourhood wanted to go for on this album.
Middle of Somewhere
Almost seamlessly, “Tobacco Sunburst” transitions into a more optimistic “Middle of Somewhere”. The song is mostly centered around Rutherford’s vocals, with a minimalistic acoustic guitar playing in the background. Towards the ending, a variety of electronic melodies begin playing in the background, but still, the focus of the song remains on the lyrics and the guitar.
To some extent, the song could be interpreted as one that is about escapism. The lyrics “Tryna stay out of my head / I need peace of mind” could reflect the way Rutherford seeks to not let fame get to his head. The chorus “Landed in the middle of somewhere with you” also supports this notion, perhaps referring to the way he wants to escape the limelight with another person.
Overall, it is certain that the album has some positive aspects. From the haunting beauty of “Tobacco Sunburst” to the stunning layers that are present in multiple songs, The Neighbourhood continues to show off their musical skill. Nevertheless, the simplicity and mediocrity of some other songs really bring the album down as a whole.
What I personally found lacking was this memorable “bite” that is present in so many of their great songs. Songs like “Sweater Weather”, “The Beach” or even “Stuck With Me” have really bitten onto me with their charisma and haven’t let go ever since I first listened to them. This album, however, does not really enthuse me about going back and listening through it as a whole. It serves as a compilation of good and bad tracks, rather than a solid body of work.
In short, this is not the strongest album by the band. While I tend to welcome experiments by musical artists (just look at how well King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard switch between genres), this attempt by The Neighbourhood was not convincing enough. Time will only tell in regards to how well Chip Chrome & The Monotones will stand its test. For now, I’ll leave it on the fact that The Neighbourhood is capable of so much more.
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