Music Reviews
11:52 am
Mon March 11, 2013

Tegan And Sara Reach Out To New Audiences With 'Heartthrob'

Originally published on Mon March 11, 2013 5:06 pm

"Closer," the first single from Tegan and Sara's new album Heartthrob, pulses with an urgency that's propelled by the synthesizer keyboards of one of the album's producers, Greg Kurstin. The sisters' voices entwine to sing the catchy chorus with a soaring quality that would be airy and light were the words not so earthy and carnal. "Closer" is indeed a song about getting closer, emotionally and physically. It celebrates a one-on-one intimacy that extends to the way this duo is reaching out to what it hopes will be a larger audience.

As openly gay women who've never made their sexuality or their sexual politics the subject of their material, Tegan and Sara have always created romantic music about falling in love and living through relationships both good and bad. In the past, it was frequently possible to distinguish between the songs each wrote — Tegan's were often tempestuous and fulsome, Sara's more poppy. But the material on Heartthrob is very much a collaboration of sounds and sensibilities, and these women are united in expressing the joys and the agony — the often luxurious, languid agony — that anyone who has been in love can identify with.

I'm glad we live in a time when the idea of putting a glossy pop sheen on one's singer-songwriter pensées doesn't lead to accusations of "selling out." Don't let your ears slip-slide over the surface of these tunes, because this is music that is often loaded with a carefully articulated sense of doubt or hopelessness that Tegan and Sara suggest needs to be shaken off, through a triumph of the pop-music will.

If Tegan and Sara wanted to expand their audience with a pop album, they certainly seem to have succeeded. Initial sales have been larger than those of any previous Tegan and Sara album, and they're touring in larger arenas as an opening act for the Grammy-winning band fun.. But beyond commercial outreach, Heartthrob is the work of musicians interested in explaining, with lyrical precision arriving in billowing choruses, the small moments that make affairs of the heart both so specific and so universal. When you can convey both of those elements in a single song, you're really doing the good work of popular music.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Tegan and Sara Quin are identical twin sisters from Canada who have just released their seventh album called "Heartthrob." The collection is a departure for the duo, which until has most often been categorized as indie or emo rock, whereas "Heartthrob" is very much a faster-paced pop album. Rock critic Ken Tucker has the review.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CLOSER")

TEGAN AND SARA: (Singing) All I want to get is a little bit closer. All I want to know is can you come a little closer? Here comes the breath before we get a little bit closer. Here comes the rush before we touch. Come a little closer...

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: That's "Closer," the first single from Tegan and Sara's new album "Heartthrob," and it pulses with an urgency that's propelled by the synthesizer keyboards of one of the album's producers, Greg Kurstin. The sisters' voices entwine to sing the catchy chorus with a soaring quality that would be airy and light were the words not so earthy and carnal.

"Closer" is indeed a song about getting closer, emotionally and physically. It celebrates a one-on-one intimacy that extends to the way this duo is reaching out to what it hopes will be a larger audience.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOW COME YOU DON'T WANT ME?")

TEGAN AND SARA: (Singing) I can't say that I'm sorry for getting so ahead of myself. I can't say that I'm sorry for loving you and hating myself. I have nothing to show you. I have nothing to hold you down. It's killing me to walk away. How come you don't want me now? Why don't you want to wait this out? 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? Tell me why you couldn't try, couldn't try and meet me here.

TUCKER: As openly gay women who've never made their sexuality or their sexual politics the subject of their material, Tegan and Sara have always created romantic music about falling in love and living through relationships both good and bad.

In the past, it was frequently possible to distinguish between the songs that each wrote. Tegan's were often tempestuous and fulsome; Sara's more poppy. But the material on "Heartthrob" is very much a collaboration of sounds and sensibilities, and these women are united in expressing the joys and the agony - the often luxurious, languid agony - that anyone who's been in love can identify with, as in this very alluring hurt-so-good ballad "I Was a Fool."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WAS A FOOL")

TEGAN AND SARA: (Singing) Do you remember I searched you out, how I climbed your city's walls? Do you remember me as devout? How I prayed for your calls? I stood still. It's what I did. Love like ours is never fixed. I stuck around. I did behave. I saved you every time. I was a fool for love. I was a fool for love. I was a fool. I was a fool.

TUCKER: I'm glad we live in a time when the idea of putting a glossy pop sheen on one's singer-songwriter pensees don't lead to accusations of selling out. Don't let your ears slip-slide over the surface of these tunes because this is music that is often loaded with a carefully articulated sense of doubt or hopelessness that Tegan and Sara suggest needs to be shaken off through a triumph of the pop music will.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M NOT YOUR HERO")

TEGAN AND SARA: (Singing) Standing where I am now, standing up at all. I was used to feeling like I was never going to see myself at the finish line. Hanging onto parts of me. Hanging on at all. I was used to seeing no future in my sight line. Sometimes it feels like they want to remind me, send all those villains after me. 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.

TUCKER: If Tegan and Sara wanted to expand their audience with a pop album, they certainly seem to have succeeded. Initial sales have been larger than any previous Tegan and Sara album and they're touring in larger arenas as an opening act for the Grammy-winning band fun.

But beyond commercial outreach, "Heartthrob" is the work of musicians interested in explaining, with lyrical precision arriving in billowing choruses, the small moments that make affairs of the heart both so specific and so universal. When you can convey both of these elements in a single song, you're really doing the good work of popular music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOOD-BYE, GOOD-BYE")

TEGAN AND SARA: (Singing) Good-bye. I don't want to feel the need to hear your voice. Good-bye. I don't want to feel the need to see your face. I can't live with all these things I would say. I can't live with all these things that I'd say. Good-bye, good-bye, good-bye, good-bye. Like the first time. Good-bye, good-bye, good-bye, good-bye. Like the first time. You never really knew me, never ever. Never ever saw me, saw me like they did. You never really loved me, never really, never really loved me, loved me like they did.

GROSS: Ken Tucker reviewed Tegan and Sara's new album "Heartthrob." You can download podcasts of our show on our website, freshair.npr.org and you can follow us on Twitter at nprfreshair and on Tumblr at nprfreshair.tumblr.com. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Related program: