Tegan and Sara's "Heartthrob" is pop-tastic, adorably cheesy
When Tegan and Sara Quin released their sixth album, Sainthood, in 2009, I was a homesick freshman seeking spiritual guidance through cool indie music (I know, I know). When I saw the sisters were coming to town, I listened to a few songs out of curiosity. I was hooked (as in, I reset my iTunes play count to conceal my obsession). They put on a great show, I bought a poster for my dorm, and then…they left my radar for several years. Recently, however, my friends have started asking me about the new Tegan and Sara album. Obviously, I had to give it a listen. How is it? Um…Interesting. Different. But not bad. Whatever I expected after 2009’s smart-and-stylized Sainthood, it wasn’t this. Heartthrob, the Canadian duo’s seventh full-length album, is full of radio-friendly hooks and youth anthems that make me want to bounce around with glowsticks. For the most part, they actually pull it off.
What happened? From interviews, it sounds like the Quin twins set out to make a straight-up pop album, just because. Nothing about these 80s-inspired anthems is remotely indie. Opening track “Closer” starts the party. It is hopeful, energetic, and the most overtly sexual song the group has released in recent years: “All I dream of lately is how to get you underneath me,” croons Tegan. Swoon. “I Was A Fool” and “How Come You Don’t Want Me” switch gears from Robyn-esque dance tunes to balladry that wouldn’t be out of place on a 90s bubblegum-pop album; while not terrible, they lack the immediacy that powers other tracks. They sound silly, as though meant to be Flight of the Concords-style parodies.
While there are no uniquely heart-wrenching one-liners as in “Nineteen” or “So Jealous,” themes of desire and loss abound. “Drove Me Wild,” with its clean guitars and evocative, longing verses, sounds like a B-side from defunct Austin indie group Voxtrot (for the unfamiliar, that’s a compliment). Penultimate track “Now I’m All Messed Up” embodies the anguish of a one-sided breakup. Sara, usually the more reserved lyricist, bares her soul with a chorus about how she’s “wondering whose life you’re making worthwhile…Go if you want, I can’t stop you.” The twins’ preferred topics—really, really liking someone, and being really, really upset when things don’t work out—are present; they just happen to be buoyed by additional production this time.
“Messed Up” also wins points for its quiet moments, which are few and far between on Heartthrob. There is something to be said for polished, bombastic anthems, but it’s hard to listen to a whole album of them. The sonic backdrop is less varied than those of previous LPs, and the tracks tend to blur together. Whereas older T&S songs like “Dark Come Soon” and “Back In Your Head” are refreshing because their minimal instrumentation leaves space to breathe, the keyboards and pounding drums that permeate throughout Heartthrob can be suffocating, especially if you’re not in the mood to prance around with glow sticks.
I would love to hear acoustic or live versions of these songs to see how they sound without near-excessive production. They just get a bit tiring after awhile, and they lack the quiet intimacy of anything on previous T&S efforts. In any case, props to the Quin twins for doing something unexpected and not falling on their faces in the process. While Heartthrob isn’t exactly my lo-fi indie-chick jam, it’s still unapologetically catchy and enjoyable. What jaded college senior can’t benefit from some musical fun?
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