If Tegan and Sara’s last album, Sainthood, showed the Quinn sisters inching towards commercialism through a rhythmic snythpop structures, then Heartthrob finds them taking giant steps towards actually morphing into conformed pop act, now playing on your teenage niece’s iPod.
For some-myself included-this transition has proved to be troubling. Stylistic opinion aside, the curious part of it all was “Why now?” Tegan and Sara Quinn are firmly past thirty, and should theoretically be over trying to play footsie with Top 40 radio and mainstream
America. Wouldn’t it make more
sense to make more of the smartly appointed direction of previous high-points
like The Con or So Jealous? Both of those efforts made a point to branch away from
their acoustic beginnings and Lilith Fair labels while adhering to a higher
standard of quality control.
For Tegan and Sara to begin pining for the lowest common denominator seemed a bit of a letdown, and Sainthood ended up confirming that a bit. So forgive me if my excitement level dropped the moment I heard Heartthrob’s lead-off single “Closer” as it confirmed the synthpop direction would be continuing, and the Quinn’s would even be adding more sugar to the mix, making the entire record a tooth-rotting affair.
Heartthrob is indeed, all of those previous descriptives-well, maybe “tooth-rotting” is a bit harsh-but it is also incredibly coy. It doesn’t take long before you’re riding out the sugar coma from Tegan and Sara’s own HFCS complacency, shamelessly addicted to the contrived songs they’ve served on this tight ten track package.
The difference with album number seven is how both sisters seem on board with this controversial departure and commitment to accessibility, which is Heartthrob’s ironic moment. By going all in, Tegan and Sara sound strong enough to withstand all the inevitable attacks of selling out, but what will end up silencing most critics of their decision is how good Heartthrob actually sounds.
Within the record’s sonic precision and scaled back lyrical examination, Tegan and Sara place much of their burden upon the shoulders of others. Despite all of the cooks in the kitchen, Heartthrob still sounds uniquely like Tegan and Sara. It also shows how good Tegan and Sara could sound on the radio. By capturing the nuances of the Quinn sisters’ charm and gutting much of the self-analysis from their lyrics, Heartthrob is more about the essence of Tegan and Sara than a reflection of their prior work.
But the surprise ends up becoming how compelling Heartthrob is, even when that essence is filtered through a different part of the sonic spectrum. It’s an inspired and infectious effort, and one that validates the Quinn sister’s desire to empower a larger audience with their music.