Thursday, July 21, 2016

Tonic Week: The Top Ten Tonic Songs

Having held the position as my favorite band for more than a decade, picking apart Tonic's career to rank their songs is a task of great difficulty. I have so many memories entwined with their songs, and nary a single one of them is easily expendable. Tonic is remarkable for the consistency of their work, which is the greatest gift for a fan such as myself, but a curse when it comes to the task of assessing the relative merits of each work. I have my favorites, of course, but they change often, depending on my frame of mind. There are several songs I feel incredibly guilty about leaving off this list, but there can only be room for ten.

1. “If You Could Only See”: The quintessential Tonic song, and for good reason. “If You Could Only See” is a bite-sized encapsulation of everything Tonic is. It has the balance of acoustic guitars with hard rock, the intelligent additions of sonic color, and the melodies that seem to pour effortlessly from them. It may not be a particularly adventurous composition, but it's as close to the perfect rock single as can be written. No matter how many times I hear it, it's as great as the first time.

2. “Mountain”: “Mountain” has a different feeling than any other Tonic song, which makes it special. It builds slowly, and when the fire explodes, the song carries an undercurrent of anger that works well against the strong melody. Some of the band's best guitar moments are found in the song, and it feels more epic than anything else they ever wrote. There's something about the way Emerson snarls the line “I'm gonna burn calling her name,” that is viscerally satisfying.

3. “You Wanted More”: Tonic isn't known as a riff band, but “You Wanted More” boasts one of those great rock riffs, the kind so simple you wonder how no one had thought of it before. That would be enough to make it noteworthy, but the song constructed atop that riff is one of Tonic's most melodic, boasting a sugary melody in the chorus, a lyrical guitar solo, and fantastic harmonies. Pop and rock may never have mixed quite as effectively as on this song.

4. “Soldier's Daughter”: Another entry from “Lemon Parade”, this song is Tonic's most affecting ballad. The clean electric guitars break up in a way acoustics don't, giving the song a melancholy aura that plays off the mood beautifully. As the song transitions into the bridge, and picks up steam, Emerson cranks out some striking melodies, while avoiding the pop flourishes that would come on later records. “Soldier's Daughter” is a pure rock ballad, and one that is an expert piece of songwriting.

5. “Sugar”: Tonic is equally adept at playing pop music as rock, and “Sugar” is their best pure pop song. Raising the key a whole step gives the melody extra polish, while the guitar solo is an exercise in minimalist beauty. The song is so catchy you don't even notice that the structure is not that of a typical pop song, which is the kind of twist that can only be achieved through sheer skill.

6. “Take Me As I Am”: Tonic doesn't always show off their rock side, but when they do, they're a great rock band. “Take Me As I Am” is Tonic at their rocking best, with another of those simple riffs that get stuck in your head, married with a soaring chorus that makes me wonder why all rock bands can't write songs like this. One of Tonic's most uplifting songs, it's also one of their best.

7. “Count On Me”: Another example of Tonic's ability to mix pop and rock, “Count On Me” is a slightly more pop-oriented take on “If You Could Only See”. On the surface, it's another wonderfully melodic pop song, but the little riff that pops up in the chorus is deceivingly heavy, and amplifies the emotional weight of the song. And when Emerson hits those falsetto notes in the bridge, it takes the song to an entirely different level.

8. “Future Says Run”: Tonic subverts pop music by doing things that are outside the box, which “Future Says Run” is an example of. Played in an odd tuning, that nature gives the song on off-kilter rhythm that doesn't sound like anything else they have ever done, and like nothing else that you're likely to hear from a pop band. What amazes me is that they're able to utilize these tricks without drawing attention to what they're doing, blending them into the songs as though it was completely normal.

9. “Roses”: Tonic songs often have beautiful harmonies, and nowhere is that more evident than on “Roses”. The chorus of the song is entirely made up of their three-part harmonies, which are a gorgeous juxtaposition to the driving, two-note riff. Songs like this should be simple to write, but they are exceedingly difficult. Tonic writes them so easily that its a thing of wonder.

10. “Bigger Than Both”: Tonic's comeback album may have leaned a bit too heavily towards pop, but when they flexed their rock muscles, they were still there. “Bigger Than Both” is another one of those songs that manages to take roaring guitars, and combine it with beautiful melodies in a way that bands simply don't do anymore. It was a throwback to their own best work, and one that lived up to any expectations I had.

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