Tegan And Sara – [Album]

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Heartthrob comes off as a gamble which succeeded, on many levels. Tegan and Sara probably had as much indie cred as any band out there. Fifteen years of putting out their emotion-packed folk-pop gave them a solid fan base and a reputation far beyond that base for sincerity and independence. Why risk all that by joining up with producer Greg Kurstin, who had previously worked with the likes of Ke$sha, Pink and Kelly Clarkson?

The twins have said they were just looking for a new direction to go in, but it's hard to believe they didn't at least consider the possibility of coming up with a hit album. Still, there were a number of risks to consider. Could they actually get a hit? Would it ruin their indie cred? Worse, would it ruin their sound? Could they still pull off their emotional intensity under layers of pop sheen?

Well, it worked. On every level. Heartthrob debuted at number 3 on the Billboard charts. That success is less of a surprise than it might seem. As I said, Tegan And Sara have both a loyal following and a solid reputation, all it took to start the proverbial engines was some radio friendly product and a push from their label. It's too early to tell if this album lost them any of their old fans, but they have certainly gained plenty of new ones with it.

But what about the music? On the surface, it's a definite success; the album sounds great. It is catchy without being obnoxious. You want to sing along. You want to dance, and Heartthrob inspires all of that without sacrificing the emotional depths. The emotional turmoil of songs like "Goodbye, Goodbye," "How Come You Don't Want Me," and "I Couldn't Be Your Friend" still comes through. In many cases, this is the strength of their lyrics and the charge in their vocals coming through the production. But, in a strange way, the sonic landscape enhances the emotions – or at least an aspect of them.

A number of the songs deal with lust, especially the opener and instant hit, "Closer," and pop music is often the perfect vehicle for expressions of lust. But even the songs of heartache (and there are plenty of those as well) gain a particular edge from this platform. What you get here is that moment when your pain starts to feel good, and you revel in your misery; that point where the only way to handle your tears is by dancing on your bed (oops, I think I just channeled by inner teenybopper). Honestly, if you're going to feel pain and heartache (or anything) this strongly, why not dance to it?

Take "Now I'm All Messed Up," here recorded as a nearly perfect little pop gem. It starts off with some hushed piano chords, then builds, each new musical element adding tension, until the final crescendo, where their voices start competing, ping-ponging off each other: "Go!/ (Please stay)/ Go if you want/ (Please stay)/ Go if you want/ I can't stop you."

On the other hand, they aren't committed to these arrangements forever. They are free to apply their old style to these same songs. Or any style they might choose, that's the strength of good songwriting. "Now I'm All Messed Up" would also work as a quiet acoustic number, or even a dirty blues.

…All of which may mean that the production choices were not really that much of a gamble. Because what really matters, what really makes this album a success, is the songwriting. The songwriting is so strong that the production not only doesn't bury it, it enhances it.

This album is a well-deserved success all around.



Heartthrob is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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