On their second album, Sugar, Tonic improve vastly on the palette of Lemon Parade by cutting away some of the fat and filler that threatened to submerge the bottom half of their debut. Though the frequent acoustic flourishes and mandolin work were interesting touches on Lemon Parade, they were often embedded in songs seeming to lack that special "something," and by doing away with most of this to focus their energies on a tighter, more direct (and in some dimensions, perhaps a little too narrow for the adventurously minded), rock-oriented approach, Emerson Hart and company have crafted a beautifully symmetrical and solid piece of modern rock. While the obvious bigger singles ("You Wanted More" from the American Pie soundtrack and "Knock Down Walls," which sports a great '80s power pop vibe) are present here, there are no bad songs to be found anywhere on the entire album, each one bearing its own redeeming qualities, whether a driving beat or a tenacious scrap of melody; from the evocative wistfulness of "Waiting for the Light to Change" to the carefree, summer romanticism of "Sugar," and from the opening stomp of "Sunflower" to the soft, crystalline splendor of "Love a Diamond," every track is its own entity, and yet the album still has a definite sense of flow in which no songs need to be skipped and subsequent listens prove continually more memorable and endearing to the ear.
Of course, for the critically minded, there is much to be criticized here, as well. For instance, despite all the strong melodies and small measures of individuality running amidst the material, some may find it slightly formulaic in the vein of the entire modern rock genre, and as previously mentioned, those seeking mind-altering innovations or a more distinct helping of songwriting -- as only the most revered bands and artists are ever truly able to serve up -- will, unfortunately, meet with prompt disappointment, but then again, the members of Tonic never claimed to be Bob Dylan or the Beatles anyway. Furthermore, the dominant lyrical theme here is pretty much the standard fare of love and relationships, and this fact alone can be bothersome to those in search of something on the so-called "grander scale," even though Hart does have a furtive elegance and flair about his words, turning in the occasional gem (as in "I don't know when I got bitter, but love is surely better when it's gone"). A lack of unbridled brilliance or stark originality keeps Sugar from being a really great album, but at the very least, it is one of the better listens available out there and valid proof that, while they have neither the desperate, emotive qualities of Matchbox Twenty or the immediate melodic inventory of Third Eye Blind, Tonic can stand their own ground among their peers any day of the week.