Tegan and Sara have a knack for creating albums that can sound so vastly different from any other particular period in their history but while still keeping it their own. The Quin twins are on their seventh album with Heartthrob and with that, their seventh sound. The interesting thing, however, is that their evolution from the acoustic singer/songwriter days of their first two albums Under Feet Like Ours and This Business Of Art has been quite linear, which allowed fans to stick with them every step of the way. Some now might scream “sell out” with their current sound but they’ve been moving toward this for their last several albums, alluding to it on both The Con and Sainthood.
Heartthrob is easily their poppiest record yet. There’s no argument against that. But their songs have always been pop songs. They’ve just always had enough edge to them to keep them comfortably enough away from mainstream music fans. With this album, things have aligned and it’s getting them attention from audiences that have never given it before. After over a decade of being darlings of the underground, they’ve grown up and expanded. Tegan and Sara’s trajectory of popularity has grown with each album release so the level of popularity that is inevitable with this record was bound to happen eventually.
With that said, Heartthrob is still clearly a Tegan and Sara record. It has the same innocent vulnerability that themed So Jealous with thoughtful whatever’s-on-my-mind lyrics but replaces the new wave influences with modern-day synthpop fused with elements of late 80s Tiffany-era and early 90s Roxette-style pop. Now I’m All Messed Up sounds like something from Madonna‘s more elegant days a la Crazy For You while I Was A Fool feels nostalgic for a combination of Cyndi Lauper meets 80s power-ballad Heart.
Much of the album could double as a response to the likelihood of the critics they’ll face with this sound, which is likely considering the album’s title itself. In Goodbye, Goodbye, they sing “you never really knew me/never ever…you never really loved me,” suggesting that those who aren’t willing to evolve with them probably never were in the beginning. Many of the songs make reference to not measuring up and they offer allowance to end the relationship since it clearly isn’t going to work. They give permission to those who are no longer interested to leave but also acknowledging that they were once relied upon, as with I’m Not Your Hero: “Sometimes it feels like I’m all that they’ve got/Gets so hard to know I’m not what they want.”
Another quality of a Tegan and Sara record is that it sounds best as a whole album rather than original tracks. They had two of the definitive albums in Canadian music in the last decade with So Jealous and The Con but both records were their strongest when listened to as a whole. That might have been what prevented them from breaking into the singles arena but they’ve developed an incredible ability to build a reliable and consistent album. Heartthrob works on both levels. They remain consistent throughout but they also created this with the singles idea in mind. Closer is becoming their biggest individual song to date while songs like I Was A Fool and I Couldn’t Be Your Friend could become huge on their own as well.
This record is a huge step up from Sainthood, which felt distant and off, almost impersonal. Instead, it plays like a smoother The Con or a well-rehearsed So Jealous. As with those albums, Heartthrob will likely become its own timestamp into personal events of 2013 and serve as a method of audio time travel in much the same way So Jealous brings back to 2004 and The Con 2007. Once again, they capture not only the sounds they record but the events that play witness to them.
2. Goodbye, Goodbye
3. I Was A Fool
4. I’m Not Your Hero
5. Drove Me Wild
6. How Come You Don’t Want Me
7. I Couldn’t Be Your Friend
8. Love They Say
9. Now I’m All Messed Up
10. Shock To Your System