Is it possible that the music of 2013 will be a return to the synth-heavy pop of the 1980s and early 1990s? Maybe the composition is not quite to “synth-heavy,” but in the early days of 2013 and judging by the accomplishments of 2012, it’s not far off. Tegan and Sara Quin (Tegan & Sara, T+S) are among those pioneering this shift in 2013, if only because of a release date in the first quarter of the year, with Heartthrob. I’ll ignore the reasoning behind the title of the album because it’s no big mystery and has been investigated by numerous reviewers already. Having been listening to T+S since If It Was You (2002) and exploring their music further with every listen, Heartthrob was a somewhat expected move. The sisters, now in their early thirties (30s) continue to make perfect songs for teenagers, those in the midst of breakups, or in dysfunctional relationships. Unfortunately, for those not in one of those broad categories, something may be lost. Those not engaging in these types of teenage-era or teenage-esque relationships may feel a slight disconnect between the music, the lyrics, and themselves. However, listeners can easily regain this connection and are coaxed to do so as the mind recalls relationships-past where these would have been perfect tracks for a specific situation. Where was Heartthrob back then?
It is, of course, difficult to listen to Heartthrob without thinking of T+S’s past work. The new release is synth-heavy and radio-ready, but definitely not a “sell-out.” If there was any fear of the fan base becoming shaken and falling off, it was misplaced – probably just anxiety of a decent album worthy of the charts. While the well-known T+S scream is lost on many tracks, it shines through the maturity on “Goodbye, Goodbye,” and “Drove Me Wild.” From the beginning of “Closer” it is easy to hear the Cyndi Lauper, Roxette, Pat Benatar, and Olivia Newton John influence, intentional or not. Turn to the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s It’s Blitz! or Karen O’s solo work for a comparison of similar, more recent pieces. Of course there are also similarities that can be drawn to The Ting Tings and even Katy Perry. Luckily, Tegan and Sara achieve what the aforementioned two could not. For those able to spot the other influences that I did not mention, congratulations – you get a point.
Tegan and Sara show a softer, less harsh side of themselves in Heartthrob. Is it because they’ve grown up, gotten older, become less energetic and can’t scream like they used to? Or is it a maturity that comes with their age? The frightening fact may be that it is truly neither. As a band they may have grown, but to still be writing and composing these teen-like tracks, while great for fans, depressingly reminds us that things may never get better. There, like all Tegan & Sara tracks, continues to be at least one line that will throw a listener to the ground, and though the sisters’ may have lost the tempo and beat that makes their listeners do the “indie dance,” that same head-bobbing travels lower and the foot-tapping creeps higher, converging at the shoulders – making the listener move, along a horizontal plane, as if they held within them a violent heartthrob.