After 15 years of making music, Tegan & Sara‘s seventh album, 2013’s Heartthrob was a surprise turn in a distinctly pop direction. It was a bold move that risked alienating their fanbase, considering they had previously been plugging away in a folky indie rock vein, but one that paid off massively. It was their most successful record by far, reaching number 3 in the Billboard chart and being nominated for the Polaris Music Prize. As if that wasn’t enough, it led to them reaching millions singing ‘Everything is Awesome’ on the soundtrack for The Lego Movie. Most importantly Heartthrob was their strongest set of songs to date. New album Love You To Death was made with producer Greg Kurstin again, bringing back the gloss he’s lent to the likes of Sia, Adele and Charli XCX.
It’s just as slick as Heartthrob, all shiny synths and barely a guitar in sight, but more frank lyrically. While Tegan & Sara have always been completely open about their sexualities, their songs have tended towards the genderless until now. Lead single ‘Boyfriend’ is a brilliant twist of the classic love triangle trope; the chorus of “You call me up like you would your best friend/You turn me on like you would your boyfriend/But I don’t want to be your secret anymore” feels like a response to the tongue-in-cheekery of former tourmate Katy Perry‘s ‘I Kissed A Girl’. They’ve talked in interviews about the lack of gay women in the pop charts, and although there’s been a wider acceptance of LGBT* pop stars in recent years there’s not been this kind of lyrical openness. And almost as importantly, it’s really, really danceable.
Later on, ‘BWU’ is a song about marriage equality, with the line “All the girls I loved before/Told me they signed up for more” and the feminist refrain of “Keep your name” over a Postal Service backdrop. It’s a really positive, joyful album, exemplified by ‘U-Turn’‘s glistening beats and determination to “Write you the love song you’ve earned”. The only let up is mid-album piano break-up ballad ‘100x’, but the way that the vocals are manipulated to a stutter in the pre-chorus lends it a playful edge, as if they’re acknowledging that shift in sound by writing a song that wouldn’t be out of place on earlier records but still consciously using the studio as an instrument.
Closer ‘Hang on to the Night’ feels like a celebration of what they’ve become. All mid-paced synth arpeggios, it points towards a bright future for Tegan & Sara. If Love You To Death isn’t as immediate as Heartthrob, it’s just as strong and, at just 32 minutes long, laser-focussed. Every track wastes no time getting to the hook, nothing hangs around for longer than it’s welcome and you’re left wanting more. Carry on making records like this and the rest of the pop world will have to finally take notice of what the queer indie kids have been banging on about for the last decade and a half.
Love You To Death is out now on Warner Bros.