Tegan & Sara - Heartthrob
Somewhat against the run of play, Tegan & Sara have made the year’s first great pop record. While the Canadian sisters have never been shy of a good chorus, the full-on land grab for pop territory that Heartthrob represents didn’t appear to be on the cards in back in 2009 when they released Sainthood; indeed, there’s a possibility that this transformation will alienate chunks of their committed fanbase. It’s an approach not without risk – many fans of Exile In Guville-era Liz Phair still wince at the thought of her self-titled play for the mainstream.
But let’s rewind a little. Grafting away from more than ten years now, the sisters haven’t really troubled the UK charts despite critical plaudits and big name support (The White Stripes covered their single 'Walking With A Ghost'). Their albums have been guitar-based indie affairs that tended to reveal themselves over time to the dutiful listener – slow burners with subtlety that bury their way into your subconscious. Their first album sounded like two girls in a room with an acoustic guitar. Heartthrob is not that album.
Aided by Greg Kurstin’s (P!nk, Kelly Clarkson) production, Heartthrob has a take no prisoners approach – every track a potential single, every chorus a winner. The kind of earworms that most pop stars would sell their granny for. The rough edges that characterised their earlier work have been polished smooth, and their trademark harmonies bask in the warm glow of retro synthesisers rather than angular guitar. Like all the best pop albums, at a svelte 40 minutes, it doesn’t linger and like all the best choruses, they pop up in your brain unbidden and won’t leave you alone for the rest of the day. It's a dangerously addictive brew.
With the 80s no longer a dirty word in popular music, the Quins gleefully channel the likes of Cyndi Lauper (it doesn’t feel like coincidence that they recently chose to cover 'Time after Time') and their confession on Twitter that their inspiration for the piano led 'I Was A Fool' was Roxette comes as no surprise to anyone who ever heard 'Listen To Your Heart'.
In keeping with title, the theme is affairs of the heart - love, loss and longing. Opener and stand-out track, the lustful 'Closer' (sample lyric – “All I dream of lately is how to get you underneath me”) sets the stall out for the new format: big synths, big choruses, driving beats. But beneath the pop sheen lies a healthy seam of melancholy and longing, which comes to the fore on the comedown album closers - the post-coital 'Now I'm All Messed Up' with it's haunting, conflicted call-and-response chorus urging a lover to stay, and the comparatively minimalist tribal beat of 'Shock To Your System' and its gentle reassurances to the recently heartbroken.
If Heartthrob does lose Tegan & Sara some older fans who fail to notice that the old harmonies they loved, and even some of the odd rhythmic touches that marked their early work are still present and correct, that’s the price of progress. It’s to be expected they'll more than make up for it in new converts. Meet Tegan & Sara - your new favourite pop stars.