Music Review: Tegan and Sara – Hearthrob

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Published in March Groove guide and www.grooveguide.co.nz

Here’s a fun fact.  Betcha didn’t know that the identical Quin twins from Calgary were initially signed by Neil Young’s manager over 13 years ago and immediately went out on the road in support of the Ol’ Ragged Glory-monger! The result was a small, utterly fanatical and loyal fan base and, of course, an admirable back catalogue of tuneful, angst ridden indie-pop and rock.  That was all very well, but on recent tours with the Black Keys and Killers it occurred to them that they’d been doing a performance version of “riding a pedal bike on the highway”.  Or so they told the Vancouver Sun, recently.  “If you want to compete with the best cars you need to step up your game”.

Ok, so what does ‘upping your game mean’ when you’ve built a reputation on a particular style and delivery?  How can you change that and increase your fan base.  How do you protect your current fan base, without alienating or ostracizing through radical change? Well to find that ‘omph’ there was a throwback to the future – circa 198-something.  Tiffany, Bannanarama, Wham! They all got the call up.  The result is product of big, glossy pop peppered with skin-tingling sincerity and romantic declarations. And that’s where the line is crossed.  What’s with this obsession to hark back to this time.  Believe me I was their.  Stock Aiken Waterman were the devil’s own producers.  Really does anyone really want to dredge up “Locomotion”-era Kylie.  Seriously?  It’s bad enough that Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj and Marina Diamandis are increasingly mining the low points of that decade.  Although I’ll give them credit for seeking out the nuggets when they can be found.  But I’d never expected the twins to stoop this low!  Other reviewers have commented on how remarkably refreshing it is to hear hearing the authentic thoughts of two 30-somethings fully magnified in the huge sugar hit of mainstream radio pop.  But I’m not convinced.  The last thing I’d want is to see is the home videos of my teenage crushes reproduced by Peter Jackson in 3D and Dolby surround sound.  When you’re overbloated, nausea is likely! 

Producer Greg Kurstin (Pink, Kelly Clarkson) is responsible for the fiasco that is Heartthrob.  No amount of indie guitars in this mix can hide the saccharine synths and pastiche pastel washes that taint every song.  Sure lyrics tackle love in a frank and honest manner.  Rejection, frustration, self-doubt and self-acceptance also get an airing.  But I’m left wondering if half these were Katy Perry’s out takes, minus the candy-covered irony.  Lead single, “Closer”, is about the thrills of a new romance:“All I dream of lately, is how to get you underneath me/I’m the type who won’t get oh so critical … I won’t treat you like you’re oh so typical.”  Yet, typically, the temptation to bury the sentiments in unnecessary layers of schmatlz completely kills and originality or appeal.  Clearly Rick Astley’s come back has competition.  Watch out mate!

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