REVIEWED: Tegan and Sara — “Heartthrob”

Tegan and Sara - HeartthrobRepent, and Confess Thy Synths
By Eric Webb

It’s been 13 years since Tegan and Sara’s debut album, and all I can think is, “Do you think the Grammys will try to nominate them for Best New Artist?” It’s happened before to plenty of artists with a well-loved album already under their belts: Silversun Pickups, Bon Iver, Feist, Fall Out Boy, and this year, fun. But when an artist makes a breakthrough that, according to the Grammy rules, establishes their “public identity,” they get their big ol’ mainstream coming out ceremony.

Heartthrob could be the biggest thing that’s ever happened to Tegan and Sara. It’s also their seventh studio album.

I love the identical Quin twins. You love them. But your mom doesn’t have a clue who they are. Their latest, though, is exactly the pop-smart kind of album that gets a “Some Nights” or a “1234” on the radio. When you think of old standbys like “Back In Your Head,” you think of the sounds-like-a-crowded-smoky-club vibe that’s become the Tegan and Sara sound. Pressing play on Heartthrob will probably fill cardiac wards with many a diehard fan.

Before you get your Jodie Foster on and hide in your indie rock panic room, get one thing straight: This isn’t selling out. At least, not in a crass, derivative way. Every song on Heartthrob is architecturally sound, lyrically beautiful and melodically infectious. If Tegan and Sara want to try a new sound palette and taste the sweet, sweet nectar of radio plays, I say get your hustle on, ladies.

Lead single and opener “Closer” is a buoyant, synth-laden anthem that screams from the rooftops, “This is a bubbly, soaring dance party album.” It gives the impression of being almost a little too calculated for singledom, but I think if you take the elements of the song and ground it all with a more guitar-driven sound, it would easily be at home on The Con. As far as catchiness goes, it’s influenza. A paean to young love and the start and/or beginning of relationships, “Closer” is brazenly teenage in tone, despite being sung by women in their 30s. Look at it this way — the vulnerability of being alive never really goes away.

Not quite as obviously shiny as “Closer” is “Goodbye, Goodbye.” Now, this is a Tegan and Sara joint. Still riding the wave of computerized jams, the track revels in its mournfulness and trades bitterness for pitiful regret. All that and it’s got hooks for days, propelled by a barrage of “goodbyes” and “never-evers.”

The heartbreak lives to fight another day on “I Was a Fool.” Is this Roxette? I can’t tell. Maybe Berlin? The piano part in the beginning is all ’80s power ballad, all the time. This should be a slog. By all accounts, it should. But a dreamy melody and a revelatory piano refrain after the first chorus safely shepherd it over the tumultuous waters of schmaltz and into the safe haven of homage.

For the Natalie Imbruglia fans in the house (please, don’t all raise your hands at once), “Love They Say” will go great on your latest mixtape. It stocks up on the most sacred imagery this side of a Madonna greatest hits compilation, providing a nice contrast to an album that wants to make you cry most of the time. Don’t get used to it; the gritty “Now I’m All Messed Up” sounds like it was recorded in a leaky Hoboken sewer. In a great way. It’s the closest the techno wonderland of Heartthrob gets to raw.

If Tegan and Sara are the Mario and Luigi of indie rock, then “Shock To Your System” is the moment they enter Bowser’s Castle. A spare and percussive closer for Heartthrob, it’s the perfect subdued capper to an album that runs out of the gate with the rollicking “Closer.” It’s as if Heartthrob starts with a yell and eases down to a whisper.

Purists, don’t shy away. Heartthrob is, in so many ways, a Quin-essential (HA) Tegan and Sara album. A little crossover pop never hurt anyone, did it? We’ll see what happens around award season next year. In the meantime, rent a mirror ball and shake off that angst.

Eric’s Picks
(1-10) The whole shebang. No. Really.

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About mattneric

We like music.
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