Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Tonic Week: "Lemon Parade Revisited" Review

When important albums reach milestone anniversaries, the trend in recent years has been for bands to head out on the road and play the record in its entirety. It's a nice tip of the hat, but it can also be an easy gesture that shows how far the band has drifted away from that moment in time. Tonic's landmark debut album, "Lemon Parade", is now celebrating twenty years since its release, but they are not taking the easy way out. Instead of playing a few special concerts that few fans will be able to attend, and that become predictable once you know what's happening, Tonic went back into the studio to re-imagine "Lemon Parade" into something new. You may not think unplugging the guitars is a drastic change, but the acoustic setting, along with a lifetime of experience with these songs, does make "Lemon Parade Revisited" a completely new experience with an old favorite.

What you get from this approach is a deeper understanding of the nuances in the songwriting. While the original "Lemon Parade" was at times a victim of the fitting gritty production, elements of the songs get lost in the haze. While "Casual Affair" and "Thick" were bursting with the power and energy of the roaring Marshall amps, the same songs here are shown to have sides of themselves we didn't hear before. "Thick", in particular, evolves from the most of-its-time grunge influenced song into an almost Celtic rumination of profound sadness. Without the distortion, the deeper identity becomes clear.

Obviously, the songs that were already doused with acoustic guitars and softer textures are the most similar to their original counterparts. "Mr. Golden Deal" is the least changed on the album, but even it benefits from the extra shot of clarity the new recording entails, as well as Emerson Hart's more matured vocal. The decades of experience singing these songs, and living life, get thrown into these familiar songs, showing them to be malleable to the changing guard of time.

But what is most interesting, and most exciting, about this album is being able to hear Tonic strip down some of their most rocking material. There was pronounced power to the raging of the band when the songs called for their all, but there's something profound to be discovered in the quieter moments. The acoustic guitars make the riff in "Casual Affair" come to life, without the notes blurring into each other. What was once a wall of powerful rock and roll has now revealed the groove that live performances have highlighted for years.

This approach also reveals that "Lemon Parade" was never an album that was dependent on its production to succeed. There are plenty of records that cannot exist in any form other than the one we get to hear, records that don't have anything of substance under the sheen of studio gloss and the immediate punch of heavy guitars. These acoustic versions of the songs show that "Lemon Parade" has always been more of a classic rock record than it has ever gotten credit for. There's an old saying that any good song can be played with just an acoustic guitar and a voice. This record is a testament to that adage.

In fact, there's only one place where the acoustic guitars leave me wanting. "Soldier's Daughter" is one of Tonic's best songs, and this version is still beautiful, but the acoustics just can't quite match the sound of sadness the original clean electrics could. The song is missing that little bit of extra melancholy that made it truly unique.

There is no replacing the original "Lemon Parade", and that's not the point of this record. "Lemon Parade" is a classic, and it's a hallmark in the lives not just of the band members, but for countless of us who have spent the last twenty years considering the album to be a dear friend. "Lemon Parade Revisited" is a sonic memory, a wistful reminiscence of the past. It is audio nostalgia, and while the original will always be the version I find myself reaching for first, "Lemon Parade Revisited" is perfect for a lazy day, relaxing, and thinking about what used to be.

Tonic breathed new life into their classic album, and have redefined how to celebrate a milestone. It's not often you get to hear your favorite songs like it's the first time all over again. Thanks to Tonic, I got that chance.

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