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by Keavin Wiggins
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Six years ago Tonic seemed to have come out of nowhere and rocketed to the top of the charts with their song, “If You Can Only See,” a track that is easily one of the best songs of the 90’s. It wasn't just the songwriting, instrumentation and unforgettable melody of the song that made it a modern masterpiece; it was the overall feel and production. Emerson Hart’s emotional vocals perfectly conveyed the sound of a man with a broken heart in a way that we haven’t heard since Percy Sledge poured his heart out with “When A Man Loves A Women”. Hart’s vocals are only part of the magic; the other half of the formula that made it such a great song was the sorrowful guitars that come in after the intro chorus. The notes ring out like cries in the night and they really encapsulate the essence of the pain of everyone around you knowing that you love someone who doesn’t love you back or doesn't treat you as they should, yet you still hold out hope that you can make it work, "if you can only see the way she loves me / maybe you would understand". Hart’s plaintive cries to anyone who will listen, where he plees “if you can only see how blue her eyes can be / when she says she loves me” as if he is not only trying to convince the world but himself that his love isn’t in vain. That place of denial where you love someone who doesn’t love you back and everyone around you knows it, is where Tonic took us with that song and people around the world connected with it. 

The rest of the debut album didn’t have quite as much commercial appeal as “If You Can Only See,” but the music had the same honesty about it, as if the music was written from the heart, not with an eye towards chart topping success. 

Another aspect that made Tonic’s debut “Lemon Parade” notable was the production. Jack Joseph Puig production on the album is nothing short of amazing. Throughout the 12 tracks he was able to capture an airy feel that made it sound like the songs were recorded in a large auditorium where he walked in on the band while they were playing and had reached that mystical zone where the music just flowed like water and he quietly stepped in and switched the tapes on to captured that perfect moment in time. I know that’s not how it happened but I like the thought of it. 

“If You Can Only See,” proved to be the monster hit that would give Tonic multi-platinum glory their first time at bat. The other two singles from the album did well, “Open Up Your Eyes” became a radio favorite and “Casual Affair” shot to the top of the charts. However, to listen to “Lemon Parade”, you wouldn’t guess that here is a band that is selling millions of records. Not that they do not deserve their success and their songs don’t deserve to be smash hits; it’s just that even a song like “If You Can Only See” doesn’t have that contrived, "let’s do a commercial hit," feel to it. Most of the tracks on Lemon Parade have rather a rock band jamming and experimenting feel to them and in 1996 when the album came out, it was a much needed break from the simplistic music that was dominating the rock scene. Tonic was never overly technical, the songs were accessible but the overall feel of “Lemon Parade” had more of a 70’s FM album rock groove to it, instead of a band vying to write a few hit singles and opting to use some filler for the rest of the tracks. 

The band’s sophomore album “Sugar” hit stores in November of 1999.  “Sugar” already had one major plus in it’s favor when it was released, the second track was the hit single, “You Wanted More,” which topped the charts when it was released on the “American Pie” Soundtrack during the summer of ’99. 

“Sugar” was a bit of a departure for Tonic. Instead of the jamming or experimental rock feel of their debut, this time around they seemed to concentrate on delivering more straight ahead rock that is easily accessible and commercial friendly.  Some were disappointed in the more commercial focused “Sugar” while most critics praised it and proclaimed that there wasn’t a weak track in the bunch. They were right!

 “Sugar” did go platinum but aside from “You Wanted More,” which had already topped the charts before the album was released, “Sugar” didn’t seem to be able to spawn any huge hit singles. Although the music had the potential, the songs never sparked like the group’s first time around. Songs like the driving rocker “Future Says Run” or the ballad “Mean To Me” which seemed like somewhat of a sequel to “If You Can Only See”. Other songs such as “Knock Down Walls” hit on all cylinders with amazing musicianship, production and songwriting and ironically the track that was the true masterpiece of this album, the love song “Like A Diamond,” was never released as a single. In many ways, “Sugar” was superior to “Lemon Parade,” it gave us a more focused band and songs, but in 1999 rock singles just weren’t cutting it and the album never got the recognition it truly deserved. 

Fans had to once again wait three years for new music from Tonic. Fortunately, the wait is now over with the release of “Head on Straight” in September (2002). This time around the band teamed up with Bob Rock to help them continue their legacy as exceptional songsmiths. If musical comparisons have to be drawn, “Head on Straight” has far more in common with “Lemmon Parade” that it does with “Sugar”. Back is the more jam band feel to the group as well as experimental elements. The album opener “Roses” kick things off strong with a nice rocker filled with the heavy guitars we have come to recognize from Tonic. The groove continues with “Take Me As I Am,” the first single from the album.  Starting with the third track “Count On Me (Somebody),” the group leaves the straightforward approach behind and Tonic spread their musical wings. The songs aren’t formulaic pop rock singles, instead they seem a little more free form but still have unforgettable melodies that are hard to resist and they have that special quality about them that may be able break through the wall of mediocrity that engulfs the rock mainstream at the moment and become monster hits. 

The more experimental songs like “Liar” and “Come Rest Your Head” may take a while to get under your skin, but once they do they become favorites. 

“On Your Feet Again” seems to be logical follow up to the title tracks to Tonic’s first two albums “Lemon Parade” and “Sugar” or even “Waltz with Me”. 

Tonic can be proud, as they have struck gold once more. Bob Rock deserves a pat on the back for helping Tonic capture their magic once again in the studio, while not going too far in search of a hit and allowing Tonic to be Tonic. The instrumentation and lush multi-layered tracks seemed to hit a perfect target this time, while the first album had an airy feel to it that some times got murky and “Sugar” was more straightforward, Bob Rock and Tonic seemed to have found a place right in the middle that works beautifully. 

Overall, “Head On Straight” is the album we would expect from Tonic. The only negative thing I can say is this album doesn’t contain a masterpiece song that quite matches “If You Can Only See” or “Like a Diamond.” While “Ring Around Your Finger” comes close and is an exceptional song and does the group proud, it doesn’t quite reach the dizzying heights of it’s predecessors. Never the less, it’s a great song among an album of great songs. 

After hearing “Head on Straight” it makes the long three-year wait worth every second and more than measures up to expectations. Tonic has had major success but they were never hugely visible stars like other bands in recent years that triumphed to the top, only to burn out quickly. Instead Tonic appear as patient rock solders who hang back for the right moment to attack, while gaining a little ground each day. Do they deserve superstar status? Sure, especially when judged against those who are this generations superstars, but in a way it’s better that Tonic reaches out to fans more subtly because the music is worthy of hype but because this band succeeds in the long run instead of the short run, their integrity doesn’t get compromised. “Head on Straight” may not ride to the no. 1 spot on the charts, but you can bet as the music is exposed to people, it will gather momentum and give Tonic the same result in the end, another platinum album and at least a million satisfied fans. 

Tonic may not be the total cure for what ails rock these days, but the potent medicine of “Head on Straight” sure eases the pain of a year that has had far too few inspired rock releases.  So go take your dose, this Tonic will not only lift your spirits but it will make your ears smile as well. 
 
 

More 

Visit the official Tonic site for more info on the band

Listen To/Purchase Tonic Music 
 
 

 Photos By Debbie Seagle
Copyright 1999 Groove Quest Productions 
All Rights Reserved 

Keavin Wiggins is lunatic in chief of the iconoFAN Network


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