If you've been a reader of this site for some time now, you'll know we throw the term "sophomore slump" around more than a football team throws passes. The simple definition of this is the difficulty a band, especially one who had great success with their debut album, have living up to the pressure of maintaining that success with album number two. If I had a dollar for every band who fell prey to the "sophomore slump," I'd be a rich man.
And then, there's Tonic. After the surprising success they had with their debut album Lemon Parade in 1997, Emerson Hart and crew had not only the unenviable task of outdoing a disc with such hits as "If You Could Only See" and "Open Up Your Eyes," but they were going to have to do it without superstar producer Jack Joseph Puig. No pressure, now, boys...
The end result of this journey, Sugar, looks at the "sophomore slump" and all the challenges the band faced, and laughs in their faces. Quite possibly, Tonic has produced an album even better than their debut release.
The first thing that strikes me about Sugar is that its overall sound is crisper - and, thinking back, Lemon Parade did sound a little muddied in comparison. Having the band produce this album turned out to be the best decision, as they know the best how their overall sound should be.
What also stands out is that this album is much peppier sounding. There aren't nearly as many droning songs as there were on Lemon Parade, and that insures that both the band's and the listener's energy levels will constantly be through the roof. The only thing I would call the band to task on, surprisingly, would be their use of one particular obscenity. Watch your newspapers for the latest story about that one crackpot parent who supposedly doesn't want to get certain albums banned, but gets Wal-Mart to stop carrying them. I'm not against the word's usage, but I question whether it really was necessary.
The first single, "You Wanted More," reminded people watching the film American Pie or listening to the soundtrack that the band was still alive and well. (A live EP, available only on the Internet, did the same thing in 1998.) But while this track is quite enjoyable, the true strength of Sugar lies in what has to be the next single: "Waltz With Me". A lively song with a catchy beat and chorus, I will be very disappointed if this one doesn't get people's attention.
Tracks like "Mean To Me" (which reminds me a little bit of "If You Could Only See"), "Top Falls Down," "Queen" and the title track all demonstrate that Tonic not only has grown as a band and as songwriters, but they can consistently deliver the goods. Frankly, it's good to see Tonic succeeding; where Lemon Parade had wonderful moments but seemed to show unfulfilled potential at times, Sugar knocks down all those walls and leaves the listener feeling that the band indeed delivered the best album possible.
While I'll always have special feelings towards the radio hits from Lemon Parade (except for that version that drops a key after the intro), the entire album of Sugar begs for repeat listens, and is an album you'll quickly get attached to. Although I've not been putting together a list of the best albums of 1999 in my head, if I were to do so now, Sugar would be near the top - if not at the top - of my "best of" list.