Back in 1999, an endearing pair of twins released their first album. The release, chock-full of romantic trials and tribulations, immediately marked Tegan and Sara Quin of Tegan and Sara as an emotionally insightful and sonically unique addition to the music scene.
The band’s quirky harmonies, heart-tugging lyrics and cutesy melodies instantly spawned a fan base that has supported the ascent of the twin sisters up to their most recent release, Heartthrob.
Yet that uniqueness doesn’t come through in this mixed-bag release, which gives some credit to the age-old argument that an artist’s older material sometimes surpasses newer creations. The twins did not make their name sounding just like everyone else, and while some of the tracks feel like bonafide Tegan and Sara of old, others feel less distinguishable from mainstream love tunes.
Heartbroken listeners accustomed to therapeutic tracks from Tegan and Sara will still get plenty of solid songs on this album — but, the sentiment sometimes feels more cliche than usual in this new exploration. “I Was a Fool” sounds exactly what the title suggests it will sound like, with the chorus repeating the title, drawing out the word “fool” for dramatic emphasis. The gist of the song is that the narrator is feeling like a fool because of some sort of failed love venture — a classic subject matter for any love song.
The certain Tegan and Sara twist that takes a classic idea and mixes it up is plainly missing from the song, though. In previous albums and well-known tracks — take for instance “Where Does the Good Go” and “Back In Your Head” — the duo uses the same type of repetition, but through less-obvious phrasing and with an intriguing blend of the sisters’ respective voices.
Tegan and Sara knows how to strip songs down to their emotional cores both musically and lyrically, but with “I Was a Fool,” the song unnecessarily drags out in the chorus and never reaches an emotional peak, fading out instead of ending on a more purposeful note.
The duo also experiments with a more ’80s, New Wave sound in the album, utilizing plenty of synthesizers sprinkled throughout the tracks. “How Come You Don’t Want Me” basically creates a chorus around a set of questions — “Why don’t you wanna win me now / Why don’t you wanna show me off?” — that make the entire track feel very retro with just a hint of Tegan and Sara’s personality in the vocals.
The song repeats these passionate inquiries until the bridge, which presents the questions in a slower form in case they still haven’t gotten through to the listener. Though it might be brutal listening for anyone on the receiving end, for a jilted listener, the song’s soothing lines might provide some comfort. Thankfully, the duo’s characteristically saccharine voices keep the song light, making it one of the sweetest-sounding neurotic onslaughts of questions.
That sweetness carries on into the more risque “Closer,” an electronically infused tune about the speaker’s mischievous desire to get more intimate with an object of affection. Short electronic notes layered together guide the song along until the chorus, which blossoms into a fuzz of electronic notes perfectly balanced with a crisp snare beat. That part of the song becomes immediately infectious, especially as it repeats the sentiment “I won’t treat you like you’re oh-so-typical.”
Yet other tracks on the album feel unfortunately typical. “Drove Me Wild” includes some nice details about a certain lover, but the chorus “And you drove me / And you drove me / And you drove me wild” feels a little empty. The verses seem more genuine than the chorus, which ultimately subtracts from the authenticity of the track. “Now I’m all Messed Up” somehow does the same; the verses include heart-wrenching lines like “Stay / You’ll leave me in the morning anyway” while the chorus starts with the strange pairing of the phrases “Now I’m All messed up / Sick and tired of wondering where you’re leaving your makeup.” Yet the duo makes up for the chorus with the end of the song, which tests the listener’s emotional stamina; the word “go” gets woven in with a more high-pitched plead of “please stay.” The twins know what they are doing and they are able to capture a relatable hysteria so well through this repetition.
Tegan and Sara ends the album with a redeeming song, “Shock to Your System,” that directly addresses any melancholic listeners. A simple yet prominent drum beat, sprinkled with piano and synthesizer sounds, manages to merge well with the clever lines “You got a shock to your system / Pull yourself out of it / I know that shock to your system / Knocked your heart right out of sync.” The song ups the emotional stakes with the phrase “What you are is lonely.” No current musical duo could deliver that line more gently.
Ultimately, this is what will keep fans coming back to Tegan and Sara. Though the act superficially sounds a little less like the idiosyncratic Tegan and Sara of past years, the genuine effort to share the tinge of romantic complications stays intact. Heartthrob does not feel like the duo’s best, but it proves the duo’s knack for taking the edge off heartbreak.