Tegan and Sara have been writing beautiful, heart-breaking music for quite a few years now. Different fans swear by them for different reasons, but a common thread runs through them all: Tegan and Sara evoke the dynamic emotion of real relationship better than nearly any other band. Ever. Fans used to have six fantastic LPs to back up this hypothesis with hard evidence. Now, with Heartthrob, they have seven. A lot of things have changed for Tegan and Sara’s sound and direction between 2009’s Sainthood and now. Just weeks before the Sainthood release, fans saw the sisters accompany Dutch DJ Tiesto on the fantastic “Feel It In My Bones”. They returned to EDM last year on “Body Work” with Morgan Page and the David Guetta track “Every Chance We Get We Run” – a bit poppy for a band best known for their tear-jerking stripped down ballads. All to say, it was a tad surprising to long-time fans when the Quins dropped “Closer” in September, a souped up dance pop anthem that could rock the socks off of most top 40 radio. But rest assured that Tegan and Sara have not lost their greatest asset. While Heartthrob may be quite a bit more danceable, its strength still lies in the power of the tumultuous lyrics and melodies that the Quin sisters choose to grace us with.
Heartthrob is 36 minutes of glossy power pop with all the glitter and shine of arena rock household names along with the experienced, mature songwriting that Tegan and Sara have been building on for over 15 years. As the Quins have mentioned in interviews with Rolling Stone and Spin, most of the tunes on Heartthrob started the exact same way as their other tunes: simple guitar or piano driven tunes that slowly evolve into the full-bodied form that we hear on their records. Luckily for any 80s fans out there, Heartthrob’s finished product is one of neon glory. “Now I’m All Messed Up” is about as 80s nu wave ballad as you can get, reminiscing to the likes of Wham! and others. The synthesizer arpeggio on “Drove Me Wild” hints at Flock of Seagulls. If “How Come You Don’t Want Me” would have come a couple decades earlier, no doubt we would have seen it in the rainy redemption scene of a John Hughes movie. Despite what the critics and cynics will most assuredly say, musically, Heartthrob may be grandiose, but it still bleeds Tegan and Sara magic at every corner.
Lyrically, the record is an ideological extension of all that Tegan and Sara have been building on for years. Don’t let “Closer” fool you – the rest of Heartthrob is just as much of a bummer record as So Jealous or The Con. You might just have to squint a bit to see through the shimmer and shine of its incredibly catchy production. In particular, “Now I’m All Messed Up” and “I Was A Fool” will bring you to gushing tears, just like the best of their catalogue. It’s really undeniable – Tegan and Sara just have a superhuman gift for diving into the soul and pulling out the truest feelings they find there. No matter how long you’ve listened to the band, Heartthrob is guaranteed to give you countless “Tegan and Sara are the only ones who understand how I feel” moments. Their timeless songwriting talent has just taken a slightly different form in regards to accompaniment.
Heartthrob ends with “Shock To Your System”, a bummed out narrative about a lover tossed out of love inexplicably. It’s a fitting end to the record, though. The shock they speak of may seem negative in the short term, but looking forward, it can give a new perspective that wouldn’t have been found otherwise. Tegan and Sara have never once disrespected their fans or done anything to jeopardize their following – Heartthrob is no exception. It just might be a shock to the system of those that have grown too cynical to learn lessons about themselves from anything but what they are used to. Heartthrob is a good example of how sometimes, the best thing for you is the last thing you’d expect.
Tegan and Sara’s Heartthrob is out now! Listen to the album in full over on their Soundcloud page, and grab it at your local record store on CD and vinyl. The Quins are headed out on tour on the way to Coachella, but won’t be stopping in Seattle this spring.