Album Review: Tegan and Sara take a giant leap with “Heartthrob”


Tegan And Sara


(Warner Bros.)

There are usually only two scenarios that emerge when a band dramatically changes their sound. One, they are widely criticised, their fans flee and they get dropped from their label. Two, they are widely criticised, their fans flee, but they somehow manage to barrel through and pick up other fans, thereby attaining the rare status: the ‘crossover band’.

On Heartthrob, Canadian duo Tegan and Sara’s seventh studio record, the seismic shift towards bombastic synth pop seems, at first, to place them in the former category. Luckily, their penchant for clever hooks and silky harmonies pulls them through. Enlisting mega producer Greg Kurstin (whose clients include Ke$ha and Kelly Clarkson), they’ve touched up the indie angst and readied it for the dance floor.

Radio friendly tracks like lead single “Closer”, “I’m Not Your Hero” and “Drove Me Wild” gleam with eighties synths riding the thumping drum track. Huge, lush, and unashamedly pop, they land somewhere between the madness of Passion Pit and the coolness of La Roux. Despite lyrics about crushing heartbreak, self-loathing and regret, the songs feel and sound amazingly euphoric. It’s the change from the maudlin to the joyous that asks the question: who would rather cry when you can dance?

When they try to go down tempo, though, the fun quickly dries up. “How Come You Don’t Want Me” contains a killer hook, but lacks the necessary churn. “Love They Say” works much better, layering up the harmonies well and good. The structure rarely varies from “Closer”, except on “Now I’m All Messed Up”, where they opt for a glitchy, slow jam.

What anchors every song (and by extension, the whole record) is their overwhelming ability to craft a catchy hook. They are the Taylor Swifts of indie pop, every note expertly placed and timed and ready for the screaming sing -a-long. And when you’re dealing with intense, gut punching emotional baggage, sometimes a massive chorus is just the remedy. If only every band’s angst was this fun.

Heartthrob is released today.

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