Published on January 29th, 2013 | by Chris Orzeske, Culture Editor
Tegan and Sara – Heartthrob
“I won’t treat you like you’re oh so typical.”
These words, belted during the chorus of first single and album opener “Closer”, are a good way to approach Tegan and Sara as a band. Those fans looking for an easily accessible pop album with no twists may feel a little alienated by Heartthrob, the sister duo’s seventh album. The Quin sisters’ patented brand of synthpop shimmers and sparkles beneath airy vocals and incredibly catchy melodies.
Where this album differs in comparison to their past ones, however, is a shift in focus from retro new wave-y sounds to a more modern take on their genre. This works wonderfully on “I Was a Fool”, a piano-driven wholly 2010s-pop jam that could’ve been Katy Perry’s next single. They haven’t exactly left their sound behind, but they’ve definitely modernized it for a modern industry.
Pop is the name of the game on Heartthrob. Aforementioned single “Closer” is a fast-paced dance-pop romp, relying on “Forever Young”-esque synths and a screamed chorus. Later on, “How Come You Don’t Want Me” follows suit with an instrumental recalling Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own”.
Notably, the two tracks deviate from the common dance-pop lyrical themes; where the average song on the radio features happy-go-lucky words, both songs are about heartbreak, longing and overall sadness. Utilizing a genre typically known for mindless pop to tell a sad story is not only ingenious, but it sets the two apart from the crowd in an important way.
Another shift in direction for the duo is the inclusion of several slower tracks near the tail end of the disc. The most notable of these is the brooding “Now I’m All Messed Up”, on which the sisters lament about a man “taking [them] on this road when [he doesn't] want to walk with me.”
It’s easy to fit sad lyrics over a slow, piano beat, but this song is different. The lyrics feature poignant imagery, something very much missing from pop as a whole today. Where Tegan and Sara lift ideas from the mainstream, they do them better than their originators.
The album does fall short in one aspect. Though relatively short at only ten songs, the lack of diversity in sound on the album causes the tracks to blend together by the end. This is a problem not uncommon on indie-pop albums such as these.
When the band finds itself in a niche sound, they feel that that’s the only sound they can use. It’d be nice to see the girls over a smooth R&B beat, or with a featured up-and-coming rapper such as Chiddy or Hoodie Allen. Unfortunately, the album is lacking in anything other than their signature mix of pop and new wave. They are, of course, good at that, but they seem to be of the “why fix it if it isn’t broke” mentality.
As a whole, Heartthrob is a great example of the versatility of the Quin sisters. The album serves to remind us that pop is, at its core, more than shaking it in the club. Tegan and Sara treat pop as art, and they want us to take it seriously. If more mainstream artists took this approach, we’d have a much better popular music scene than ours today.