DEAR TOMMY IS ALMOST HERE AND WE CANNOT BE MORE EXCITED; This may be something you will be seeing on any Johnny Jewel Facebook page within the next few days. Yes, Jewel’s iconic caps lock announcements have been pouring through any page he has control over, and trust me that is a lot when you are in as many projects as Johnny Jewel (apart from running the label Italians Do It Better, he is in Chromatics, Glass Candy, Desire, Symmetry, his solo project and more). Jewel has been a big reason why retro disco synth pop has made a comeback, through his hard work within all of these projects, In fact, Chromatics was a post punk band that was basically done for before Jewel helped to revamp the band with such a turnaround. They were sloppy, and now they’re fixed to a click track. They used to be torn and punky, and now they couldn’t possibly glisten more. You can barely tell that they are the same band.
For Jewel to claim Dear Tommy as the band’s best album thus far and as something he is truly proud of is a lot. Sure, his constant use of caps lock (he has mentioned that this is because he finds it hard to read online with an eye condition he has) and his devotion to his fans may prove that he may be heavily based on talk. However, when was the last time Chromatics have not put in effort? They may not be your preferred kind of band, but they are always trying to make albums and releases that are full of purpose. This new example, Just Like You, is only a small part of this release that Jewel is teary eyed about.
If we’ve learned anything about Chromatics in the past, it’s that their albums are audible movies. We’re merely getting a scene preview placed onto Youtube before the big cinema release. There are a whopping 17 tracks, and we can already guess that we’re in for an hour-plus ride full of mesmerization. With that in mind, it’s hard to judge Just Like You alone. Most Chromatics songs come alive after you’ve heard the entire release and not just a single song. So far, we’ve heard the songs Cherry and Camera (both off of the After Dark 2 compilation). We will be hearing a new song each week before Dear Tommy’s eventual release (of which we haven’t been given a secure date yet), so Just Like You will barely be alone here. Yet, this song was not featured elsewhere or closer to the release date. It was this that was picked to lead the album into the masses. Did the band pick well?
It’s certainly a different song from what they have done in the past. It’s typically Chromatics, but it also feels a lot more open and spacious than we are used to with the band. Their songs may be layered and soothing, but they often felt beside you. Here, the song surrounds you. The Chromatics we’re used to was very in-the-moment musically, while this song feels like a bittersweet memory that lingers and never climaxes. Jewel’s production skills have shown an improvement here (not as though he wasn’t skilled already), as rhythm lines will slowly merge into the foreground and get lost amongst the foggy ambience placed there. It feels like Jewel has played around with what each sound can represent and not simply how well sounds work together this time around. Maybe that’s why he is so proud to release this song.
The music fits the lyrics snugly. Ruth Radelet reflects on a current person’s similarities to that of a person she once knew. She directs the song to the person of her past. “He looks just like you, he even says the same things”, she starts the song with. “He even wears the same clothes” is the next coincidence she brings up. From here, it’s hard to see what Radelet is truly doing. Is she bragging or is she upset and longing? The end of the song has Radelet repeating the fact that “he even loves like we used to”. Is this new man a step up or a mere token of what once was? We are left in the dark, and that’s kind of the point.
Jewel has answered many questions on Facebook about the new album (including one I asked him. Thanks, Johnny Jewel!), but the identity of Tommy is still vague. He is “ALL OF US”, Jewel said. Maybe Tommy is a character who touches upon the many facets of heartbreak we have all gone through. Kill For Love and Night Drive sure did this, so it would not be unfamiliar for Chromatics to do this again. This may be the most personal we will get with the band, if Just Like You is any indication for how the rest of the album will play out. For now, it’s a mere piece of the puzzle, and a very hypnotic one at that.