With a name like Tonic, Emerson Hart, Jeff Russo and Dan Lavery have always been committed to supplying relief through their music. The band's third album, Head On Straight, once again provides such a cure for the head and heart. But lyrically, at least, it's not always an easy pill to swallow.
It's been three years since Tonic's last platinum-selling album, Sugar. And in that time, the Los Angeles-based trio has been winding down the road to connect with fans, while trying to keep relationships back home from unraveling. Not surprisingly, those intense experiences found their way into the band's new music.
"The album reflects how the band felt when making the record," says guitarist Russo. "It was inspired by our personal lives as well as how making and touring behind the last two albums affected us."
It's the age-old conflict between domesticity and destiny. And throughout Head On Straight's twelve dynamic tracks, singer-guitarist Hart recalls the ups and downs of the past three years and compresses them into three-minute anthems. Call it a road map to the band's emotional state.
"This is definitely the most personal and focused album we've ever made," admits Hart. "I took a lot of time writing the lyrics. It's a real album, and a lot deeper lyrically than a lot of music out there today."
In a mere twelve words, the title track's majestic chorus sums up the album's theme: "I'm keeping my head on straight, so you can trust me again." Most of the songs, in fact, find Hart in a romantic mood, soberly confronting the personal poisons that often terminate relationships. Yet somehow, the songs always resolve on an uplifting note.
Where does one go to record such a soul-baring album? Why, Maui, of course, where legendary producer Bob Rock does his best work (The Cult, Metallica, Our Lady Peace). During the mere six weeks it took to track the album, the band members took some quality private time communing with nature--but only as a means to recuperate between marathon sessions. "The remote location contributed to a great work ethic," says Hart of the island paradise. "We worked at our own steady pace and it was just the band and Bob, no distractions."
You won't hear any slack-key guitar, ukulele or Don Ho cameos on the disc, but you will hear Rock's unmistakable widescreen production. After the string of hits the band enjoyed with its first two albums, including the chart-topping "If You Could Only See," "You Wanted More" and "Open Up Your Eyes," Tonic wanted to up the stakes on its third effort. Rock served to amplify the material's best qualities.
On the album opener "Roses," toms roll in like thunder, introducing Hart and Russo's gargantuan guitar riff. On the Bic-waving ballad "Count On Me," the perfect hint of strings underpin Hart's aching melody and melancholy lyrics. On "Liar," the band opens up the throttle on its stage-perfected guitar attack and Lavery's booming bass action. And throughout, Hart's earnest vocals, point-blank lyrics and uplifting melodies take the spotlight. The result is a timeless album that distills the band's essence. "We make albums because we have something to say," says Lavery. "Plus we just love rock music."
Like Tonic, Head On Straight sounds as simple and complex as that.