I have no business writing this album review, and I suppose I wouldn’t be if I didn’t love every song on it. Electro-synth-pop is not my forte. It’s not even near the same universe of artists I usually listen to. Which begs the question: why did I listen to it?
I did because Tegan and Sara are two Canadian singer-songwriters who I stumbled upon more than a decade ago, when I saw them open for The Pretenders and Neil Young in Virginia Beach. Two years later, I saw them again, this time opening for Ryan Adams at The Ryman in Nashville (yes, the famous “Summer of ’69” show). So, because of these cirumstances of which they’ve been projected into my life, I’ve decided to keep in touch now and then. And I’m glad I have, even if I haven’t always been blown away by their work.
Their new album, Heartthrob, however, is somewhat of a pop dream, and it has my full attention. The first single, “Closer,” introduces us into a world of sex and confident mystery, promising not to “treat you like you’re oh-so typical.” Wouldn’t we all love that.
But what I adore about this album is that, while it is mostly upbeat and and makes you want to shake your ass, it’s real in the sense that there’s plenty of darkness surrounding these songs. “Closer” pulls you in, but “Goodbye, Goodbye” draws a line — one that suggests a recent dissolution. “I Was a Fool,” in all its beautiful balladry, confirms this: that all is not well.
But don’t get the wrong idea — nothing sounds tortured on Heartthrob. Rather, it’s honest pop music that actually has something to say. And I don’t know what pop artists you’ve been listening to these days, but in my world, that is rare.
One of the album’s best tracks, “Drove Me Wild,” has such a groove that you tend to forget what is really going on in the song: “You put the brakes on this, and it drove me wild.” I don’t think she is singing about once was, which was probably sex, but rather what is now: a hole where something wild used to live. Shit, that would drive anyone wild.
Heartthrob closes with “Shock To Your System,” a song that suggests hope is on the way, but also faces reality: “What you are is lonely” is sung over and over. Except we don’t feel lonely when it ends. We feel ready to move on.
See Tegan and Sara at The Pageant in Saint Louis on March 10th.