tonic

REVIEW: Hit Zone 4 – Various Artists (1998)

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HIT ZONE 4 (1998 BMG)

“If You Could Only See” the reasons I own this CD.

Nobody buys a CD like Hit Zone 4 and likes every single track.  Stuff like this was popular because it gave kids an easy way to get a bunch of one hit wonders from the rock and pop genres without buying the albums.  There were also big names on board.  CDs like this were always on the charts, year ’round.  Today, kids just go to Youtube or Spotify.  But even a curmudgeon like me can find a few songs here to enjoy.

In particular, I bought this CD for a rare non-album version of “If You Could Only See” by the underrated Tonic.  This was their big hit, and the version on Hit Zone 4 is an alternate recording with a slightly new arrangement.  The liner notes lie and say it’s from their album Lemon Parade; this is obviously false.  In fact there’s no obvious way to tell it’s a unique version without listening to it.

What else is good?  “All Around the World” by Oasis (from 1997’s Be Here Now) is one of their more Beatles-worshipping moments.  Here it’s in the form of a radio edit (4:50).  I’ve never felt “All Around the World” was one of Oasis’ best tracks, and it works better in the context of its grandly overblown album.  However, “All Around the World” is like freaking gold, compared to Boyz II Men….

Other decent music:  I have a soft spot for Chantal Kreviazuk’s ballad “Surrounded”.  Jann Arden too, and “The Sound Of” is one of her very best tracks.  I’ve seen Jann live, and she did a fantastic show with stories and jokes and unforgettable songs.  Then there’s fellow Canuck Bryan Adams, with his excellent acoustic rocker “Back To You”, from his Unplugged album.  Few Adams albums from the 90s on are worth a full listen.  Unplugged is.  “Back To You” was the “new” track used as a single.  It’s bright and alive in a way that Adams’ later music is not.  Fiona Apple’s dusky “Criminal” is classic, of course.  Finally, who doesn’t still love The Mighty Mighty Bosstones “The Impression That I Get”?  They were one band that truly deserved their hit.  They’d been at it for so long, and this song is really just that one perfect tune for the right time.

Unless you were a kid in the 90s, you’ll find yourself skipping over ‘N Sync, Backstreet Boys, All Saints, Robyn, and even Hanson.  Young Hanson can be tough to listen to.  I mean, they were kids, making music that kids liked.  It couldn’t really be helped.  I also find myself breezing past Mase, The Verve Pipe and Imani Coppola.  One hit wonders, right?  Shawn Colvin’s OK, but Boyz II Men can fuck right off.  “4 Seasons of Loneliness”?  Maybe because you guys are all wearing matching sweaters.  You can’t win friends with sweaters.

Hit Zone 4 is the kind of thing you buy in a bargain bin if you find it for $1.99.  These were once front racked at the old Record Store for $16.99 because they had so many hits from the late 90s.  It really was great value, because really, are you going to listen to Imani Coppola’s whole CD?  Be honest!

2.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Tonic – Lemon Parade (1996)

TONIC – Lemon Parade (1996 Polygram)

“If You Could Only See” was both the song the put Tonic on the map, and the one that put the bullet in their career.  If you’re over a certain age, you remember the powerful and tasteful ballad from when it hit the charts in 1997.  I had the album already.  I bought it when it first came out, after reading a glowing review in the local paper and seeing a used copy pop in at the Record Store.  Finding Jack Joseph Puig’s name in the producer credits got my attention too.

Tonic’s debut Lemon Parade is a great sounding CD, thanks to Puig and the richly arranged guitars of Emerson Hart and Jeff Russo.  When the guitars are center stage, all is well.  The opening duo of “Open Up Your Eyes” and “Casual Affair” have the punch that people don’t always associate with Tonic.  These guys could play.  “Casual Affair” in particular has angst and emotion ripping out of those six-strings.  When they get heavy, like on “Wicked Soldier”, there is always something bright and chiming going on with backing guitars.  Check out “Celtic Aggression” for a fine example of their guitar expertise.  Emerson Hart has an emotive voice, whether rocking out or serenading the ballads.

It’s the ballads the people remember, and you have to admit that when you break it down, “If You Could Only See” is a fantastic song.  Layers of chiming, chugging and sliding guitars are right there beneath the core melodies.  On the mandolin-infused “Mountain”, plus “Soldier’s Daughter” and “Lemon Parade”, you can absolutely hear old-tyme southern influences creeping through.  Tonic have traits that sound as if from another era, in many ways.  These are actually quite great songs, largely forgotten because of that one hit.

There are only a few songs that don’t score top marks:  “Thick” (no hooks), “Mr. Golden Deal” & “My Old Man” (both too sleepy).  The rest is pretty solid.

3.5/5 stars

#475: If You Could Only See (Where are they now?)

A multi-site feature on “Where are they now?” bands from the 1990’s.

Geoff at 1001 Albums – Gin Blossoms
Aaron at KeepsMeAlive – The Refreshments
James at KeepsMeAlive – Crash Test Dummies
Boppin at Boppin’s Blog – The Pursuit of Happiness
Deke at Stick it in Your Ear – Paul Laine

Scan_20160323 (2)

GETTING MORE TALE #475: If You Could Only See (Where are they now?)

In the 1990’s, folks liked to make fun of all the old, outdated one hit wonders from the 80’s.  Whether the name of your band was Winger or A Flock of Seagulls, few were spared the torment of being teased.  It seemed for a while that the only bands that could be considered relevant were not from the 80’s (except for a couple that people always conveniently forgot actually were from the 80’s — Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails).

Today, we like to look back upon the music of the 90’s and do the same thing.  Those terrible post-grunge bands, the awful flannel, and groups with names like Hootie or Spin Doctors…always ripe for the pickings!  We all do it, don’t we?  It’s not like it’s an accurate reflection of the decade.  Even beyond the “big” bands, there were some good and some great 90’s groups who lacked longevity, even though their album output wasn’t bad at all.

Scan_20160323One such band was Tonic.  “If You Could Only See” was their hit ballad, which of course did nothing to hint at the rock and roll on their album, Lemon Parade.  That song actually took a long time to finally hit.  Heavier singles like “Open Up Your Eyes” and “Casual Affair” preceded it, but obviously did not have the same impact.  So, Tonic became one of those bands closely identified with a ballad and not much else — usually the death knell for a group.

I tweaked onto Tonic early. The Record Store that I managed was opened up in April of ’96. A promo copy of Lemon Parade rolled in shortly after.  We bought it from the customer for $6 (which was pretty much the going rate for a brand new release back then) and put it on the shelves where it sat for a while.  I recognized the album in the Kitchener newspaper’s music section, where they gave it a glowing review. It was produced by Jack Joseph Puig, who also produced my favourite Black Crowes album, amorica.  The review claimed that Tonic were clearly influenced by the sounds of the 70’s rather than the 90’s, so I decided to pop it in the player at work and check it out.

I liked it enough to play it a few times, and eventually buy a copy myself.  I found it to be pleasant rock.  Nothing too hard, but edgy enough.  “Casual Affair” for example has an angry groove to it, though it was certainly not going to challenge the Smashing Pumpkins for heaviness.  It had a spare, real production.  It’s all about guitars; layered in the grand tradition of Page and Hendrix.  When it’s quiet you can hear people breathing while strumming.  The key thing with Tonic, to me, was the musicianship.  I had grown weary of the bands who clearly didn’t give a shit about learning how to play.  Tonic were not one of those bands.  The busy basslines grooved with a variety of guitar sounds (including lots of slide) and a wicked drum sound to form a modern but rootsy whole.  Band leader Emerson Hart was a short-haired dude with big cool mutton chop sideburns.  I liked him immediately.

TONIC_0001In ’97, “If You Could Only See” was released as a single and the band finally saw some serious chart action.  Unfortunately the ballad resonated with the kind of people who tended to buy an album for one song, and not give the rest a real chance.  They started coming back used regularly.  The album sold 1.3 million copies, but how many of those are in people’s homes today?  Their second album Sugar (1999) was miles and away better than Lemon Parade, but failed to make a lasting impact on their careers.  By the time they hooked up with Bob Rock for 2002’s Head on Straight (their third LP), it was too late.  Proving that the Grammy Awards don’t know their elbows from their asses, that lukewarm CD was nominated for two awards.  Like a death knell, the band went on hiatus a short while later.

During their hiatus, the band members worked on music separately but Emerson Hart’s Cigarettes and Gasoline was close enough to Tonic to keep the core sound alive.  It contained some deeply personal music — Hart’s father disappeared (like completely vanished) when he was young.  Still, a solo album is not the same as a band album, so Tonic reformed in 2008.  Their Best of album (2009) contained a number of acoustic and live rarities, and a full album simply called Tonic emerged in 2010.  It continued where they left off, plying Tonic’s signature sound based on rootsy guitars and melodies.  Sugar remains their high water mark, but the band have been relatively quiet since the reunion began…until now.

In March 2016, Tonic announced that for the album’s 20th anniversary, they would be recording an acoustic version of Lemon Parade.  This should be worth checking out, but most importantly we hope a trip to the studio will eventually inspire some brand new Tonic songs!

REVIEW: Tonic – Sugar (1999)

TONIC – Sugar (1999 Universal)

Why did Tonic never make it big? Maybe they didn’t have enough of their own identity, maybe it was the 90’s, maybe it was the “one hit wonder” stigma. Whatever it was, I tweaked onto this band in April of ’96 thanks to a positive review in the Kitchener-Waterloo Record (probably by Robert Reid).  I thought their modern rock take on their classic roots was interesting and full of integrity. Indeed, this band didn’t seem to be about following the flavour of the week, but by reaching back to 70’s rock roots in a modern context.

Sugar, the second album, was the one where it all came together. Not one weak track on the whole bloody CD. The slow songs are sweeter, the hard songs are angrier. Something must have happened to Emerson Hart to really tick him off. Girl problems. From “Knock Down Walls”:  “So don’t tell me that I’ve gone crazy, you’re the one who tried to fucking change me…”  Emmerson also begs the question, “Why do you have to be so fucking mean to me?” on the track “Mean To Me”.

Whatever his inspiration, the anger struck a chord with me. Yet the slow songs like “Waltz With Me” were beautiful, gorgeous, full of love.  It’s not a heavy album, but it rocks and has a level of quality that was often absent in the mainstream rock music of the late 90’s.  Sugar is loaded with layers of electric, slide and acoustic guitars, great drumming, great singing, and relatable lyrics. The songs themselves are packed with variety and quality. Really, this should have been a huge album in 1999, and the biggest hit of Tonic’s career, but they were never trendy. Shame. They deserved more than the one hit.

Highlights:
The whole album, but I especially love “Drag Me Down”, “Mean To Me”, “Knock Down Walls”, “Sugar”, “Future Says Run”, “Waiting For The Light To Change”.

4.5/5 stars

Part 192: Mix One

MIX ONE

RECORD STORE TALES Part 192:  Mix One

Blank discs are so cheap, and musical tastes so fleeting today, that I wonder if anybody but me still has the first mix CD they ever burned?

I’m hoping some of you have, and I’m hoping to hear it about from you too.  My first disc was made in early 2001 when we got our first burner.  It was made for a very specific purpose.

At the store, there was an informal rule that if you were closing one day and opening the next, it was “OK” to borrow a movie overnight, watch and return it.  So if that was true for movies, why not a CD?  Why not a dozen?  A few nights after having the CD burner installed, I borrowed a bag full of discs and burned this compilation on a Maxell CD-R 650.  74 minutes!  Up to 16x certified!

I returned the discs the next day, all albums that I wanted one or two songs from, but not the whole album.  Many were soundtracks and tribute albums.  I ended up buying The Strokes’ album a few weeks later, an ill-advised purchase that yielded only two or three listens.  I don’t have that one anymore.  But I still have my mix CD with “Last Nite”!

The Robbie Williams + Queen track is taken from the soundtrack to A Knight’s Tale.  I shall maintain the anonymity of the store employee who had the crush on Heath Ledger and inundated us with this soundtrack.  The same disc also yielded “I Want to Take You Higher” by Sly and the Family Stone.

Track 3 is an industrial-rock hybrid tune called “Violent New Breed”.  I later purchased the Violent New Breed album by Shotgun Messiah.  Industrial rock fans will know that Messiah’s original bassist/singer was Tim Tim, aka Tim Sköld of KMFDM, Marilyn Manson, and his eponymous band.  I liked the title track enough to later buy the album and the prior one too.  Both were keepers.

I’ve been a Goo Goo Dolls fan for a while so I thought I would grab their INXS cover “Don’t Change” from an Ace Ventura soundtrack.  Their cover of “Bitch” came from the 1993 No Alternative compilation album.

Apparently I was on a Warrior Soul kick at that time as well.  Shame that there isn’t a great Warrior Soul compilation album that suits all my needs.  I bought and sold their studio albums.  As for Michael Jackson, I later decided to add a single disc compilation to my collection, offsetting my burning of “Billie Jean”.

This being a real odds n’ ends disc, it’s not a spellbinding listen today.  It’s fun to remind myself of some oddball tracks that I liked enough to burn but not enough to buy.  I’m also amused by the title Mix One, the first of many!  And I was even doing cover art back then, too.  On the cover is myself dressed up as the alien from Part 148: Navigate the Seas of the Sun!

2/5 stars!

NEXT TIME ON RECORD STORE TALES…

The return of the Dandy!

Most Unrightfully Ignored Albums of the 1990s – LeBrain’s List Part 4

This is it!  The end!  In alphabetical order, here’s Part 4 of 4:  88 albums that meant the world to me in the 1990′s but never got the respect I felt they deserved.   Thanks for joining in!

Savatage – Streets:  A Rock Opera (sheer brilliance, their first and best rock opera)
Savatage – Edge of Thorns (an album to give Queensryche a run for their money)
Savatage – Handful of Rain (recovering from tragedy to create a triumph)
Savatage – The Wake of Magellan (how did this band just keep getting more brilliant?)
Scorpions – Face the Heat (had a couple good heavy rockers on there like “Alien Nation”)
Shaw/Blades – Hallucination (Tommy Shaw, Jack Blades, campfire goodness)
Skid Row – Subhuman Race (when you’re pissed off and you know it, bang thy head)

Sloan – 4 Nights at the Palais Royale (one of the best live albums of all time – ignored internationally)
Dee Snider’s SMF’s – Live / Forever Twisted (fuck, I missed Dee in the 90’s!)
Spinal Tap – Break Like the Wind 
Stryper – Can’t Stop the Rock (a compilation with two great new tunes)
Sultans of Ping F.C. – Casual Sex in the Cineplex (see here)
Talas – If We Only Knew Then What We Know Now… (Billy Sheehan and the boys reunited for one night, and has the wisdom to record it)
Tesla – Bust A Nut (in some ways it’s better than their prior records)
Testament – The Ritual (really heavily slagged at the time as a sellout)
Tonic – Sugar (much better than the first record, you know, the one that was a hit)
Devin Townsend / Ocean Machine – Biomech (one of his more accessible albums)
Union – Union (Bruce Kulick + John Corabi = better than what the Crue or Kiss was releasing)
Steve Vai – Sex and Religion (Devin Townsend — lead throat)
Veruca Salt – Eight Arms To Hold You (their best album, better than the big hit one)
White Lion – Mane Attraction (it was a little mushy, but brilliant guitars by Vito Bratta)
Whitesnake – Restless Heart (back to his blues rock roots, it wasn’t even released here)

We’re done!  88 albums that meant a lot to me in the 1990’s, but in some cases were criminally ignored.  Check them out.