We’ve seen this coming for the past few of Tegan and Sara’s albums—an edging ever closer from coffeehouse indie to electro-pop. With their seventh full-length release Heartthrob, the twins’ transition is complete as they jump with all four feet into accessible, radio-friendly pop.
For some fans (and certainly by formula), this move has all the earmarks of a total sellout. But I suppose that depends on perspective. As a Tegan and Sara fan for years, I’ve always hoped they would reach a much wider audience. They are undoubtedly going to do that with this album. What some consider a sellout, I consider to be the duo’s best record to date.
While the overall vibe is definitely in line with modern electro-pop, don’t mistake Heartthrob for a lapse into ‘tween bubble-gum pop drivel. A listen to the lyrics reveals genuine introspection and emotion packed into a set of very well-written songs. As the album title suggests, these songs are about love and relationships, emanating from the twins’ experiences in their own relationships. The leadoff track (and first single) “Closer” sets the tone for the record with a repeated signature throwaway vocal-hook over a solid dance beat. From there, the enjoyment continues with almost no missteps. Additional standouts for me include “Love They Say,” and “I Was a Fool,” with extra kudos for “I’m Not Your Hero,” with one of the most poignant lyrics on the record: “I’m not their hero / But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t brave / I never walked the party line / Doesn’t mean that I was never afraid.” There are plenty of songs to dance to on this record, but for me, I like Tegan and Sara best when they get introspective.
So yeah, there’s a lot of by-the-book pop hooks and radio-friendly song structures (the longest tune clocks in at just under 4-and-a-half minutes). But what makes that kind of thing redundant and formulaic is when it’s all style and no depth. Lyrically, Tegan and Sara have made sure we have a reason to listen, and they’ve couched those lyrics into songs with high production value, catchy melodies and ear-pleasing sounds. The end result is that Heartthrob is one of the most honest, authentic and masterful pop records I’ve heard in years. If everyone did pop music this way, we’d have no reason to complain.