Matt on Music: Tegan and Sara's 'Heartthrob'

In 2009, I became a Tegan and Sara fan after being introduced to them through a friend. They stand alongside TV on the Radio and Vampire Weekend as one of the bands most responsible for my fascination with indie-rock after being exclusively classic rock-oriented for so many years.

At the end of that same year, their sixth album, “Sainthood,” was released. I immediately played it, feeling more and more excited with each song. It’s still an album I hold in high regard, although not as high as their 2004 masterpiece, “So Jealous” or 2007’s glorious “The Con.”

The same thing happened this year. They announced their seventh album, “Heartthrob,” would be released at the end of January. They released two singles, “Closer” and “I’m Not Your Hero,” and hyped up the album for weeks.

Despite Yo La Tengo’s “Fade” instantly becoming one of my all-time favorite albums, “Heartthrob” was still my most anticipated release of the first month of 2013.

A week before the album was supposed to come out, it premiered on Rolling Stone’s website. As with “Sainthood,” I played it immediately. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel much excitement.

My opinion on “Heartthrob” has grown with every listen. It’s no “Sainthood,” but the melodies still work terrifically. Less than a week after first listening to it, some of the songs were getting stuck in my head as much as Tegan and Sara songs should. I’ve been walking around humming “Drove Me Wild” and enjoying it as much as any of my other favorite songs to hum.

Despite it initially seeming like humming was the only way to enjoy the melodies, the music has grown on me as well. It’s easy to be wary of heavy synth, especially when it’s being used by a band that was previously guitar-based, but it does work on “Heartthrob,” for the most part.

It seems like they saved the album’s most accomplished production for its weakest songs, though, and got lazy with the really well-written tracks. This results in an album with a lot of decent songs but not many incredible ones.

One of the things that stuck out about their previous album was that it was mature. After years of angst, complete with lyrics like “Nobody likes to but I really like to cry,” they were growing up and it felt like we, as the audience, were along for the ride.

“Heartthrob” feels like a step way back in maturity. The lyrics are as angst-filled as ever, and they lack the self-awareness shown by many of the songs on “Sainthood.”

“Drove Me Wild” is particularly irritating, hence the lyrics, “When I envision you/I think of your sheets/Tangled up beneath me/Your body inching close/Closer to the edge/I got a hold of you then” (“Drove Me Wild” is one of the best tracks, too, which makes lines like that all the more frustrating).

Of course, their songs have always been emotional heartbreak anthems, but “Drove Me Wild” seemed really genuine in the past.
“Call It Off” is such an emotionally devastating song that, if I listen to it in the wrong mood, I’ll often shut it off in anguish.

Now, what used to be genuine and heartfelt now feels forced and illegitimate. That’s not to say that, as they get older, Tegan and Sara should stop writing sad love songs. People never stop feeling heartache, so there’s nothing wrong with somebody in their 30s (or, hell, their 70s) writing about it. But, as one gets older, they should start writing their age.

On “Heartthrob,” only “I’m Not Your Hero” feels like it was written by a 33 year old. It’s also the only track that works in all the major areas, being sonically hypnotic, melodically gorgeous and lyrically mature—for example, “I never walked the party line/Doesn’t mean that I was never afraid,” which is enough to be one of Tegan and Sara’s best songs ever.

“Heartthrob” doesn’t work nearly as well as the previous three albums, mostly due to the lyrics. Then again, many fans of their older work probably aren’t tired of that kind of lyricism and, if it works for them, that’s OK. If Tegan and Sara continue to do well, that’s wonderful. This one just doesn’t work for me. I guess it’s starting to turn me off when they start talking like teens.

Grade: B PLUS

Key Tracks: “I’m Not Your Hero,” “Drove Me Wild,” “I Couldn’t Be Your Friend” and “How Come You Don’t Want Me?”

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