Tegan and Sara - Heartthrob

Tegan and Sara take the road less traveled with electro pop and upbeat dance synths, but get lost along the way.

Additional Info

7.1

ALBUM: Heartthrob

ARTIST: Tegan and Sara

2013

Alternative

The talented twins have been a part of the indie music scene for a few decades now with seven released albums. Their innocent, rock-centered tracks have grown in popularity over the years with tracks such as "Walking With a Ghost" and "Back In Your Head". The Canadian sisters have harnessed their piercing vocals and charming production choices, but have broken away from their comfort zone with Heartthrob. Trading in their raw acoustic pop sound for mainstream pop is a risky decision, especially in the eyes of their devoted fans. It could just be that this sound from Tegan and Sara is so different that many are in a state of simple and temporary shock. It could be that the thought and execution hit completely different targets. In some respects this could be a smart decision in terms of profitability and creative evolution; however, only if done right. Not concluding that Heartthrob is a complete failure but from the overdone dance synth and electro pop sound, it is hard to say that the album is perfection.

Heartthrob is a ten-track album devoted to the innocence and torture of falling for someone during the teenage years. Songs explore reflective, vulnerable, and headstrong tones that are all reminiscent of that awkward age. Although the duo is thirty-three in ages, they still have the ability to harness such blunt and painful emotions. From problems with spatial distance, broken relationship, self-confidence, and the triumphant nature of love, the album has a wide selection of lyrical material to explore. However the content is a little underdeveloped. “You don’t need to wonder/ If love will make us stronger/ there’s nothing love can’t do,” on "Love They Say" is an overwritten cliché as well as “I couldn’t be your friend/ even if I tried,” on "I Couldn’t Be Your Friend". It seems as though the effort is somewhat apparent but is stale. The album seems to carry a sense of immaturity within mood, yet also within the lyrical development of Heartthrob.

In a lot of respects the new sound works really well. Tracks such as "Closer", "I Couldn’t Be Your Friend", and "Shock to Your System" have very few flaws in terms of overproduction and appeal. "Closer" is a track that explores that heavy dance synth sound, but the chorus is really well produced making both of their voices sound strong and makes for a stable hook. It’s catchy and works for an opening track. "I Couldn’t Be Your Friend" is another track that is not overdone with the relentless piano hook that brings the track down to Earth. And "Shock to Your System" is the best track of the entire album with the airy vocals and triumphant battle cry of a sound; it’s the happy medium of the new mainstream pop sound and their older vibes. But these three tracks alone cannot carry the rest of the album. And tracks such as "Drove Me Wild" and "Now I’m All Messed Up" weigh the album down with nothing really to hold on to. The two did switch producers on this album to Greg Kurstin who has written songs for Kelly Clarkson to P!nk, along with Justin Meldal-Johnsen, and Mike Elizondo, which may have been their faulted risk. Trying to expand one’s dynamic for their music is one thing, but jumping in head first without testing the waters might result in death by musical riptide.

Despite the incongruence of Heartthrob, the album undeniably was made to keep fans on their feet and dancing. It’s a catchy album that will have one just giving in to all jumping and fist-pumping sensations. It will have the listener feeling some nostalgia, with songs that will flood the minds with memories of high school (which may not always contribute to the best of feelings). The dance infectious state of the album and honesty that it expresses are exciting, but the newer and more adventurous aspects of Heartthrob may take some time for comfortable adjustment.

“I think our biggest fear after this many years would be to put our record out and have people say, ‘Oh it's another Tegan and Sara record.’ I think that's how we've stayed relevant and we've stayed successful for the last decade-plus and also just to keep us interested.”

1. Closer
The opening track is filled with eighties inspired synths and robotic noises while as the track moves closer to the chorus a twinkling piano and organ chime in. The chorus explodes and is the best part of the song with the charming harmonies that follow. The chorus is gripping and has potential to be a big dance hit. But somehow the effort feels incomplete. The song is hollow and tends to be immature and this is not just a result of the physical infatuation that the sisters sing about. The paradoxical content of the song is amusing with Tegan singing, "It’s not so just all physical/ I’m the type who won’t get oh so critical/ so let’s make things physical.” It may not seem all about the physical, but when one is a teenager, the hormones say otherwise and thus the verse, “All you dream of lately is getting underneath me/ all I dream of lately is how to get you underneath me.” It’s not the deepest lyric content, but the honesty is admirable. There are great aspects of the song from the determined chorus to the fuzzy guitars in the back that make it sound edgier along with the twinkling back up vocals and whistling, yet despite its best effort, the track does not reach a harmonious balance of melody. 8.5
2. Goodbye, Goodbye
A pain stricken pop song sugar coated in pop synth glory. This track discusses the heart breaking realization of breaking it off with a lover, an extremely hard thing to accept. This track almost makes it sound like a good thing with the bouncy synths and optimistic drumbeat, but when listening to the lyrics one realizes its not as easy as it sounds. “You never really loved me/ never really loved, loved me like they did,” Tegan cries in grief. The chorus sounds like Robert Smith and The Cure, but even in all its pop purity the track seems too fast paced and a cliché with lyrics that have been sung countless of times before. 5.5
3. I Was a Fool
With a piano hook that could almost be mistaken for "Listen to Your Heart", this track is not off to the best of starts. As soon as Tegan starts singing though the song picks up the slack with great airy vocals that lead into a classic chorus. “I was a fool for love,” the chorus breathes with ease with the strong acoustic guitar and its beautiful harmonies. A story of broken love is told as Tegan sings “But stand still is all we did/ love like ours is never fixed.” The track works well as the vocals are impeccable and the lyrics flow with the melodies and the track fades out with a pure pop ballad glow. 7.0
4. I’m Not Your Hero
One of the few tracks that does not obviously revolve around a love affair, this track is about believing in oneself and acknowledging one’s own flaws. The lyrics may not be the most creatively assembled but they are easily accessible and tell a reflective reality. “Standing where I am now, standing up at all/ I was used to feeling like I was never gonna see myself at the finish line/ Hanging on to parts of me, hanging on at all/ I was used to seeing no future in my sight line,” are strong words as Tegan sings with a reflective tone that is filled with honesty and hope. The opening guitar bit is uplifting and the pop structure of the song with the wailing, faded guitar and solid synth chorus keep the song from dragging on. The electronic bongo element between the chorus and the verses is a good touch. This track shows a strong heart as well as strength in its potential. 8.0
5. Drove Me Wild
This track falls flat for many different reasons. First the monotone vocals of Tegan with the odd voice manipulation are unattractive and boring. It does not sound like Tegan And Sara at all. Along with the synthesizer melody that sounds like something of Metro Station, the line between electro pop and pop punk have been crossed. And finally the lyric content of this track may be written from the point of view of a youngster, this does not mean though that it had to sound like one wrote it. This track is the weakest on the album, possibly the weakest attempt by the band ever. 5.5
6. How Come You Don’t Want Me
Piled with point driven questions of that poke out the character flaws of a relationship with subtle synths and fluttering keyboard create a reflective and strong-willed track. Every significant other should fight for each other and this track should be an anthem for the losers that do not. It’s reflective of Tegan and Sara’s older tracks, not sound wise but in terms of content, especially off of The Con. Another track that should tug at the tween heart stings, but overall it’s a very accessible song for any age. With the lyrics, “How come you don’t want me now? Why don’t you want to wait this out? How come you always lead me on? Never take my call, hear me out? Why don’t you don’t want to win me now?” the track carries reliability and a purpose. The bridge is perfection on this track where the melodies are amiable and the beat picks up with a hard realization. It’s a successful track, except for the orchestral piece in the very beginning, which makes the song sound dated. 7.0
7. I Couldn’t Be Your Friend
The catchy piano that implies influence of what would be a pop Grizzly Bear alongside warped guitar riffs that add the right amount of indie rock edge to another twinkling pop track. The tambourine and synth soaked chorus is a bright and delicious decision for the track. What sounds like star crossed lovers that can’t reconcile as comrades, Tegan conveys the right amount of loss and strength in her vocals when she sings, “Now you wanna say I was a liar, Led you astray, I wont deny it/ I did what they thought would be good for me,” and the chorus, “I couldn’t be your friend, even if I tried again.” It’s a pleasant track despite the exhausted lyric content.8.5
8. Love They Say
It’s one of the more vulnerable tracks of the album that’s initially stripped of the electronic synths and dance pop melody, and instead left with acoustic guitars and a simple drumbeat that slowly builds up. The message of the track, “There’s nothing love can’t do,” is a little stale, but the song has good intentions in its hopeful manner. The track has great backup vocals and the stripped down nature of it makes it shine through on the album. But just because it is the sore thumb that sticks out, does not make it a home run for Tegan and Sara. The track’s clichés are a bit overbearing and it falls short with its simplicity. 7.0
9. Now I’m All Messed Up
This track sounds like it was written for that soap opera scene where the husband is cheating with his lover from high school and the wife has nothing to do except have a glass of wine and cry for him back. It is just painful. The opening lines sound like a Mariah Carrey track and the chorus, “go, go, go if you want/ I cant stop you,” while in the background “please stay” is being cried out. It is extremely cliché and the production of the song is uneventful. It’s the break-up song one will never want to hear because the river of tears will be infinite. Another weak and disappointing effort by Tegan and Sara. 5.5
10. Shock to Your System
The album ends with an enlightened and darker track that sheds the innocence that the rest of Heartthrob holds. Not focusing on lust or a damaged relationship, but instead a vengeful track that concentrates on making stabs like, “What you are is lonely.” This track takes a step away from the dance synths and glimmering pop and trades them in for robust drums and harsher keyboard melodies. The addition of the orchestral backup and a slight piano in the background adds the sadder touch of the song but this is what makes it so strong. Tegan’s vocals sound confident and relentless but range in tone when Sara comes in towards the second half of the song; the contrast is pitch perfect. It’s a strong track that closes out the album with sense that Heartthrob was not a complete loss. 9.0
Written by Margaret Farrell
Margaret Farrell is a writer from outside Chicago. She is currently a student at New York University, studying journalism and creative writing.



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