By Tom Charles
Tegan and Sara’s seventh album showcases strong musicality and vocals, but has failed to show any lyrical progress.
Tegan and Sara’s seventh studio album, Heartthrob, fits perfectly into their discography. It’s the final step in their progression from an alternative/indie rock duo to a decidedly pop outfit. With this shift, however, they no longer seem like a pair of angsty sisters steadily growing passive over time, but insincere musicians who’ve given into the standard model of radio pop.
It’s perfectly acceptable for a band to keep their fan base in mind when recording an album. It’s an entirely separate issue to compromise their integrity for the sake of an audience that could be. Yet, as Heartthrob plays out, it doesn’t take long for its monotony to set in, quickly numbing the listener to the repetitious arena-pop sound that initially carries such splendor. For an album with such high vocal timbre, you’d expect the lyrics to be substantial. Instead, they offer childish perspectives on adult situations.
“Closer,” Heartthrob’s opening track, sets the album off on a strong note. Ripe with crisp percussive elements and uplifting synth jabs, all masked under impeccably harmonious vocals, the song is ambitious in nature. But after five consecutive tracks with almost identical structure, this perceived ambition is completely dissipated. It isn’t until “How Come You Don’t Want Me” that the sisters finally present a new arrangement. However, this variance in sound is immediately mimicked on the following number, “I Couldn’t Be Your Friend” — with comparably airy, jittery keys and an excitable chorus — making their deviation from the first half of the album easy to overlook. The track list, piled high with similar sounding songs, hurts the album’s overall listenability.
Heartthrob even comes across as a one-track record lyrically. It’s hard to feel sympathy for a pair of 32-year-olds who still struggle to learn from past relationships. With lyrics like “even if I tried again / I couldn’t be your friend,” the sisters — both of which were in serious relationships throughout the recording process — sound more like Taylor Swift than two aging adults.
Lackluster lyrics aside, the vocals on the album are stellar. The harmonies are so in-sync they could only come from the chemistry of twins who’ve spent 15 years collaborating. Heartthrob is at its strongest right before its end. On “Love They Say,” the sisters tap into their past trademark sound: ethereal acoustic guitar overlaying a heavily distorted, deep bass that slowly evolves into a booming anthem. It’s one of the few times the sisters seem vulnerable, honing the authenticity around which they built their fan base.
The problem with Heartthrob is the seeming lack of audacity. Tegan and Sara, who are both gay and now in their early 30s, used to be on the cutting edge of society. They wrote protest songs. Now they’re struggling to interpret the same love issues as their ten-year-younger pop contemporaries. It’s questionable whether the record is better suited for late night dance floors or small rock bars. As a pre-mainstream-EDM indie project existing in a post-mainstream-EDM world, Heartthrob arrives five years too late.