Release Date: Jan 29, 2013
Record label: Warner Bros.
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
These twin sisters from Calgary worked the jittery end of the coffeehouse throughout their twenties, crafting a sharp folk-rock sound that was a touch emo, but still Canadian-modest. But now, at 32, the Quins have decided to get sweaty. Their seventh album is a veritable bouncy castle of lush, up-to-the-minute indie synth-pop and blown-out radio choruses, less fussy and more whee than anything they've done.
"We've made everything different," Tegan or Sara from Tegan & Sara told music mag Spin last year, "If we could change our band name we would. It was time to shake things up.". She was talking about Heartthrob the Quin twins’ seventh and shiniest album and an unashamed grab for the grown-up pop big league. Helmed by a producer who scrubbed up Ke$ha’s grubby bits and sanded down Lily Allen's rougher corners, Heartthrob plays Katy Perry, Gaga and Gwen Steffani at their own game, harnessing the power of Bananarama, Cyndi Lauper, Madonna and Robyn and trouncing all over the contemporary competition.
One of the most impressive aspects about Tegan and Sara is their commitment in honing their craft in such a way as to make every new album that much better than the one preceding it. If you take a gander at their humble beginnings with albums like Under Feet Like Ours or This Business of Art, it’s astounding to see the level of growth in their musicianship and songwriting almost 15 years later. Arguably, the band of super cool twin lesbians didn’t achieve that that moment in the limelight until their 2004 semi-hit “Walking With a Ghost”—to be later covered by the White Stripes.
On their new album Heartthrob, Canadian indie rock duo Tegan and Sara change direction toward a more polished pop sound. From the opening single “Closer” to the final track “Shock to Your System,” the songs are full of danceable hooks and mainstream-radio-friendly vocals. Still, the change is not so drastic, except perhaps for the most fanatic fans of the band.
Tegan and Sara Quin have decided seven albums in that it’s time to throw down the pop gauntlet and see where seven albums gets you. Saying yes to sawtooth synths and no to Dr. Luke, their lean, 10-song sellout most resembles the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ It’s Blitz! or Metric’s Synthetica—the results of good songwriters demanding respect as they glitz it up.
The word bittersweet doesn't quite do justice to the exquisite agonies that have driven Tegan and Sara's music for 14 years. But the tunes and recriminations seem to cut deeper than ever on their seventh album, an unabashed attempt by the Canadian twins to make a record of arena-filling angst pop. It packs a real punch; scuffed edges have been planed smooth in favour of a synthy, turbo-charged sound, thanks in part to Ke$ha producer Greg Kurstin, and hooky, histrionic choruses come on like narcotic rushes.
On their 2009 album Sainthood, Tegan and Sara made some tentative steps into the pop mainstream by stripping their sound down to the bare essentials and delivering a batch of their hookiest songs to date. Four years later, on 2013's Heartthrob, the duo dives into the pop mainstream headfirst. Working mainly with producer Greg Kurstin, the duo's approach is slick and punchy with lots of synthesizers, programmed drums, and a sound that falls somewhere between Robyn and Katy Perry on the pop spectrum.
When Tegan Quin spoke to Under the Radar about this then-untitled record in early 2012, she expressed feelings that it could be a door-opening album for the band. "I feel like we've hit on something that's going to allow people to connect to it and get into it," she said. "Just like Ace of Base.".
Review Summary: They're not unfaithful but they'll stray. At the heart of it all – the cheesy, shimmery synths, dolled up with a glorious major-label sheen, the dance-floor bass wallops, the nostalgic grooves that call to mind bad movies and worse outfits – Heartthrob is still the same old Tegan and Sara fans have always known. The touchstones are now more Breakfast Club and Madonna than power chords and Metric, the production slicker, shinier, the cover a colorful, stylized wallpaper than an ominous tome or a blood-red rose, yet there they are on opener “Closer,” still dreaming of “how to get you underneath me.
It would have once been obvious to say that a band's fans made them what they were. Now there's almost something quaint about it, especially considering (and not in spite of) the hashtagged millions that comprise the Little Monsters, Swifties, and Beliebers, who are as much a marketing tool as the groups being marketed to. Although they get a decent amount of exposure each time they release a record, until now, Tegan and Sara's sustained success has been down to a core fanbase.
Whether they’re from the wrong side of town or just from Canada, heartthrobs have long been the pulse of pop music. They start the fire, the spin us right-round, they inspired Kelly Clarkson to quote Neitzsche. And now they’ve given Tegan and Sara a reason to dance. Their seventh studio album, Heartthrob, takes the indie-rock duo in a synthpop direction.
Tegan and Sara wrote an unabashedly mainstream pop record in Heartthrob. Their indie rock and punk roots, which remained present over the years even as the duo's music became more accessible, have completely left the picture. (For those scoring at home, the best amalgamation of T+S' underground roots and pop tendencies was 2007's The Con.
For a record that kicks off with a song called "Closer," Tegan and Sara's seventh effort has a fair amount of distance to it. Throughout, the Calgary, AB-born twins look back on past relationships from afar while using a shiny, multi-layered sonic template. The title implies childish fantasies, though the sisters' grown-up, real-world experiences have evidently offered just as many unrealistic expectations.
Tegan and Sara recently broke the ten-year mark as a band, with their debut having come out in 1999. It’s also their first record since the twins hit the age of 30. In a Rolling Stone interview, Sara Quin said that their previous record, Sainthood, was the closing on an era for the duo, meaning that fans could expect something different going forward.
It’s often overlooked that pop is short for popular, ergo popular music being something a great number of people listen to, unashamedly, and derive a great deal of pleasure from, equally unashamedly. That this needs clarification shows how it’s become a loaded term, confounded with pointless product and mindless marketing, and should never have become a pejorative one. Good pop, in its many guises, makes sense to people, and that alone gives it value despite some (and maybe especially music writers) hanging other labels on it for leftfield kudos.
The advance chatter about Heartthrob is that this is the album that will propel Tegan & Sara into the mainstream pop world, and it definitely sounds like they're trying. Unfortunately, nothing sounds less like a hit than a song trying to be one, which is the case for much of Heartthrob. That said, lead single Closer has all the makings of a genuine big pop anthem, other tracks are contenders for chart success, and there's mercifully little filler.
It’s hard to fault “Heartthrob’’ for barely resembling “Sainthood’’ or whichever Tegan and Sara album first hooked any given fan. From almost day one, the sisters Quin have dramatically evolved their style with almost every release. Tegan and Sara don’t just sound different on “Heartthrob’’ — burrowing into the whoosh of modern electronic pop — they sound different: “Drove Me Wild,’’ “I Couldn’t Be Your Friend,’’ and “Closer’’ feature softer, rounder vocals than their previous work.
This review originally ran in AP 295. When AP featured Tegan And Sara in last year’s Most Anticipated special, Tegan Quin said they were listening to Tom Petty, Kate Bush and ABBA while working on their seventh album. If Heartthrob is any indication, they listened to a lot of ABBA. Instead of acoustic guitars aplenty, there are ’80s-infused dance beats.
Bicoastal Canadian twins Tegan & Sara emerge from a four-year focus on other projects with their seventh LP, a glossy song cycle of sex, devotion, and heartbreak, heavy on the heartbreak. Beginning with the naughty promise of "Closer," which voices a transgressive assertion of female sexual desire, the duo rapidly devolves into a string of whiny mash notes accentuated by tinny, synth-heavy instrumentation. One exception, "Shock to Your System" builds an enormous musical scaffold, from a tick-tocking bass-and-tom beat on the bottom to glimmering rhythm guitar on top.