It was Tegan & Sara‘s last album, Heartthrob, that saw them suddenly metamorphose from slightly earnest indie-folk duo who hung out with the likes of Death Cab For Cutie and Weezer to fully-fledged merchants of massive pop bangers. Closer, in particular, was one of the finest pop songs released for ages, and it comes as no surprise that they’ve reunited with one of Heartthrob’s chief architects, Greg Kurstin for its long-awaited follow-up.
Kurstin, who seems to be carving up quite the career for himself as the alternative to Max Martin, has produced an album full of pop suss and sparkiness. There’s nothing that quite hits the spot as perfectly as Closer did, but plenty come close, with almost every track boasting a massive chorus and fizzling with energy. And, although it shouldn’t be a big deal in 2016, it does come as a pleasant surprise to realise that the pair no longer hold any truck with gender-neutral pronouns in their lyrics, making Love You To Death one of the most openly LBGTQ+ albums in mainstream pop for many a year.
Boyfriend, for example, is a clever twist on the age-old tale of the love triangle, with Sara Quinn bemoaning of her girlfriend (who was also seeing a man at the time): “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”. The song’s unrelenting bounce means that it’s up there with the best of Robyn when it comes to dancing on your own with tears in your eyes. BWU has a similar theme – “all the girls I’ve loved before told me they’d signed up for more” runs one particular wistful line. It’s genuinely heartening to hear an album which will appeal to young people who otherwise find little to identify with in today’s pop songs.
All that would mean nothing though if these weren’t genuinely great songs. Over their long career, the Quinn sisters have become experts at producing hooks that grab hold of your heart. U-Turn is possibly the best thing on here, a huge disco anthem that you just want to listen to again and again, while the genuinely affecting ballad 100x takes the opportunity to take the tempo down a notch. That’s not to mention the deeply personal White Knuckles which addresses the sometimes fraught relationship that the sisters have.
Admittedly, it all can sound a bit too polished at times, and you do yearn to hear a bit of grit and dirt in Kurstin’s production now and again. It never really dips into blandness though, and at just half an hour long, it never outstays its welcome. Indeed, as the last track ends, you just want to go right back to the start again. Love You To Death is an album full of intelligent, sensitive pop songs, and at a time when the watermark for such music is pretty high anyway, it really does stand out from the crowd.