Tegan And Sara Quin, as a pairing, couldn’t possibly be a more singular proposition: two identical, Uranian twins of a strong sociopolitical persuasion and endowed with an abiding penchant for all things purportedly emo, they’ve taken the genre’s more introspective moments to an astoundingly exoteric audience and blown them up into anthems many a suburban arena would struggle to contain. They are, moreover, something of a guilty pleasure for many – one of which some strive to rid themselves. And it therefore seems rather suitable that for this, their seventh studio full-length, they should translate their aching balladry into unabashedly poppy hunks there for the hacking at.
For Heartthrob beats to the humdrum of the FM-attuned: opener Closer sounds like Marina Lambrini Diamandis indeed marching to the beat of Nicola Roberts’ Dimitri Tikovoi-inspired drum, whilst Drove Me Wild is as though Nena’s 99 Luftballoons inflated with the grim vapidity of Little Boots’ whatever. It makes for a disorientating tizz of a mélange, not least when one stops to contemplate even a second the obscenities of the pop genre. You know: the heinous sexualisation of its female players, the flagrant misogyny the former provokes, and so forth. “How come you always lead me on/ Never take my call; hear me out?/ Why don’t you want to win me now?/ Why don’t you want to show me off?” they cloyingly chime in unison on How Come You Don’t Want Me, articulating the concerns of gazillions of Katy Perry-idolising adolescents the length and breadth of the North American continent in one fell, and with that fairly feeble, swoop. Not only do the duo’s uniformly pestilential vocals poorly lend themselves to this sort of systematic maltreated damsel schtick, but the music itself is also as wearisome as a Carly Rae Jepsen album track.
It’s all excessively homogeneous really, in that it reflects the dearth of imagination to have been newly invested in pop: the futile nothingness of I Was A Fool, replete with pianistic refrains evocative of U2 circa All That You Can’t Leave Behind; the Kylie-lite cheap electro contrivances of Shock To Your System; the trashy Europop synths of Goodbye, Goodbye that prove classless as the Zakinthos strip itself; or the formulaic Taylor Swift-y I’m Not Your Hero, during the chorus of which they hawk nasally and again in concert: “I’m not their hero/ But that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t brave/ I never walked the party line/ Doesn’t mean that I was never afraid/ I’m not your hero/ But that doesn’t mean we’re not one and the same.” Whatever it may be to be either Tegan or indeed Sara, it’s something that’s difficult to envisage even a few people this time aspiring to, although that there final lyric carries some slight pertinence all of its own. For vocally, Tegan is indiscernible from Sara, and Sara indistinguishable from Tegan. They’re identical in almost every respect – one and the same. And as far as the diversity of the LP goes, well, it suffers, as it may as well in fact be Tegan or Sara. And as most pop acts are only too aware, surplus members are rarely worth the worry…
Though whichever of the two it was to have come out with I Couldn’t Be Your Friend did OK: a droll number with dweeby lyrics of “Does your heart ache/ When you get around me?/ Does your heart break/ When you think about me?” swizzled around the honky-tonk of Grizzly Bear’s Two Weeks, it’s actually quite invigorating for the most part – and that even in spite of its immoderately saccharine backing harmonies. Love They Say so too – a kind of slushy Scandi-pop-slash-LeAnn Rimes-ish ditty – seems to work, as it recalls something or other angst-y with which Dallas Austin would’ve surely been involved somewhere or other unexceptional around 2002.
Though otherwise, Heartthrob is just that: utterly unexceptional as a 120 BPM dance track. And although hip hop heavyweight producer Mike Elizondo and onetime NIN bassist Justin Meldal-Johnsen may have played a part in the fabrication of this awfully unblemished experiment in pop of sorts, it’s the involvement of Yankee mainstay Greg Kurstin which thuds out above all else. Kurstin spent snatched moments of last year working away on Girl Who Got Away – Dido’s comeback and fourth full-length due March – and the penultimate take on this one, Now I’m All Messed Up, almost sounds as though it’s been shoehorned onto the wrong record. Its chorus comprising the lyrics: “Now I’m all messed up/ Sick inside wondering where/ Where you’re leaving your makeup/ Now I’m all messed up/ Sick inside wondering who/ Whose life you’re making worthwhile”, it’s the exact sort of maudlin stuff Armstrong would sob over yet more coffee table dross – one ringed with annular claret stains and doused in salted tears. Though there would at least then be some human emotion involved, right?
Released: February 11th, 2013 [Warner Bros Records]