Leave it to a pair of twins from Canada to provoke listeners in such joyful fashion. With Heartthrob, a contagious chunk of pure pop bliss, Tegan and Sara Quin have taken apart the apparatus and replaced it with something flagrantly appealing and, iniquity of all iniquities, “radio-friendly.”
Have they been spending too much time with Justin Bieber? Was that Carly Rae Jepson magic rubbing off on them? Are they “selling out?”
Make no mistake about it, Heartthrob is every bit the pensive, intimate Tegan and Sara that fans have come to know over their relatively lengthy career. These songs pulse with character and run like open-hearted confessionals, brimming with the sisters’ gift for language and honesty, but the project is more inclusive.
For one thing, Tegan and Sara have written a good portion of these songs together. They’ve tossed a fair bit of studio control to producers Greg Kurstin, Justin Meldal-Johnsen and Mike Elizondo, shifting how the record pulls together at the seams and how it’s built from the inside. “We intentionally went looking for a producer who wouldn’t dwell on protecting the signature Tegan and Sara sound,” Tegan says.
With the signature sound in the wind, the freedom to operate under new rules (or without rules altogether) seems to have consecrated Heartthrob with a life-force rarely seen in popular music. While the aesthetic swing may be shocking to some, this is an energizing and exciting record that happily pulls out of the indie shoebox and into a more collective context.
So when the downright sexy “Control” volleys into the headphones with a come hither Kylie Minogue vibe, some might be scrambling for the CD cover in confused dismay. Good. Let ‘em. For Tegan and Sara, this cooing, innuendo-dripping pop tour de force is just the right fit. The vocal blend and sonic muscle is incredibly catchy and the duo’s “first make-out song” is a marvelous way to kick off the record.
Tracks like “I Was a Fool” typify the fusion of feelings that pervade many relationships, clarifying the complications as well as the more pleasant instances. Tegan and Sara move beyond the cadenced nature of their singing and stretch out, expressing emotion over piano rolls and a damn slick beat.
“How Come You Don’t Want Me” is touching in its honesty and anxiety, pulsing with reverberating synthesizer and more vibrant vocal blends. And “Love They Say” is a beautiful piece, with Tegan hauling out the acoustic guitar for gorgeous accents.
Heartthrob is the next step in the evolutionary of Tegan and Sara, an album of love, passion, energy, and necessity. It feels like a very different record for the Calgary-born duo, sure, but it also feels like the only record they could’ve made at this point.