Retro pop inspires nostalgia . . . or confusion

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February 25, 2013

Tegan and Sara (2012)
Produced by Greg Kurstin, Justin Meldal-Johnsen and Rob Cavallo

Reviewed by Chris Ho

Reaching for new heights, the Canadian indie duo Tegan and Sara released their seventh studio album at the end of January and recently announced their 2013 Summer Tour with the indie-pop sensation, Fun.

It’s tempting to consider Heartthrob as a huge departure from the sisters’ signature guitar-driven indie rock that earned them their fame, although it’s been a somewhat natural progression. With the success and attention they received from their collaboration with dance-pop icons Tiesto and David Guetta, it’s no surprise that Heartthrob expresses the poppy, synth-driven side of Tegan and Sara.

However, if you were expecting the same sort of fresh and innovative pop sensibility found in previous tracks like “Feel It In My Bones,” or ‘”Alligator,” you may be slightly disappointed. With a few exceptions, nearly all of the songs from the new album are produced and written in a style that is extremely reminiscent of 80’s and 90’s pop, (which could very well brainwash the listener into either working out to “Body Break” Youtube videos or feeling a sudden urge to attend an 80’s-themed party). Or if you’re me, you put on Olivia Newton John’s “Let’s Get Physical,” after hearing the first song and hit single, “Closer.”  Be warned.

Nonetheless, with over-exaggerations aside, Heartthrob is a very honest album underneath all of the candy-coated dance beats and synth-bass lines. While the lyrics are simpler than what a Tegan and Sara fan would have come to expect, they are still ones we can relate to and are sung with a sense of conviction and honesty. Needless to say, the confessional style of Tegan and Sara’s songwriting remains throughout, even as it becomes saturated with a somewhat overwhelming amount of 80’s and 90’s pop influences. This is apparent in songs such as, “I Was A Fool and “Goodbye, Goodbye,” where everything from the vocal melodies to the synth lines and ambient elements seem to transport to listener into an episode of Dawson’s Creek or Saved By The Bell.

So as the album winds down and almost ends on a note that reminds you of a more serious side of  The Spice Girls, (as might be argued for the chorus of  “Now I’m All Messed Up”), one will either be overjoyed with nostalgia, or confused as to where this creation might fit in with modern-day pop.


Chris Ho is a UVic graduate and Victoria-based singer-songwriter.

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