Tonic: Sugar | PopMatters Music Review


By Steve Lichtenstein

Apparently, the joke is on us. Tonic, alt-rock’s answer to a dreary pop-song no one asked for, decided to name their second album Sugar, possibly to accentuate the sweetness of the music in comparison to its painfully sour and mildly successful predecessor, Lemon Parade. Oh, those pranksters, will they ever stop?

It seems no. Ten years ago, the material on Sugar might have been interesting: above average song writing amidst sleek, chunky acoustic guitars and strong vocals. Only problem is, we’ve heard this before, and thensome. There’s nothing here that hasn’t been forced upon you by Matchbox 20, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Collective Soul, or any of the other similar modern rock radio/VH1 crossovers. And why should Tonic change? It seems to be working, at least as opposed to a semi-drastic change in sound which may jeopardize sales, fan base or air time (ahem…Third Eye Blind?) Stick with what got you to where you are, at least until it alienates someone. Fortunately (or not) for them, Tonic exists in a quasi-obscurity which should prevent any such alienation. Would the general public, for instance, notice a new Tonic album of techno songs? Unlikely.

This being said, it’s not that any of the predictable songs on Sugar are terrible, or even unlistenable. On the contrary, they are quite bearable, just unremarkable and stale. Worse things have happened in music (ahem…Third Eye Blind?) Of course, achieving this mediocrity by way of evoking other sounds is almost a given. As proof, “Knock Down Walls” reeks of early and lame Goo Goo Dolls or The Replacements without their luster, refinery, and oft-kilter excellence, while “Mean to Me” is vintage Oasis, at least in the whiny “Why you gotta be so mean to me” of the chorus. Still, though, the first single, “You Wanted More,” is a fair piece of poppery, complete with a Zeppelin riff and earnest chorus. And to dispel any belief that, if pushed or on a bet, the band can’t rock out, witness the bluster of “Drag Me Down” or “Top Falls Down.” Neither are very good songs, mind you, but it does show a little backbone which the remainder of the album does not reveal.

Sugar is what it is, and it could never be anything more. That may sound like a vague runaround, but I assure you it isn’t. One listen should tell you that you could hear this at a sweaty frat party or in your mom’s Le Sabre on the way to church at it wouldn’t seem weird in either case. Take that as you may.

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