Date: September 2, 2002
Author: Joseph Caouette
Publication: Robot Fist
Headline: Songs that musicians twice their age would surely love to write - IF IT WAS YOU - Tegan and Sara - Universal
One of the best things about Tegan and Sara - once you get past their talent, I mean - is that they practically write your reviews for you. With the release of their third album, If It Was You, I thought I would take this opportunity to outline the basic principles of writing a Tegan and Sara CD review. Anyone who follows these four basic rules should be able to write a perfectly adequate review. It helps if you also have heard a copy of their album, but luckily, that's not completely necessary if you just heed these rules.
Even though Tegan and Sara's previous album, This Business of Art, bore only superficial similarities to Difranco, it is an oft-repeated remark that they are either inspired by or imitating Difranco. Even now that the superficial similarities are gone, reviews of If It Was You still often try to refer to Difranco in some way. In actuality, If It Was You seems to take its cues from eighties pop and turns out much better than you would expect of an album that purports to begin with a song that sounds like Tainted Love. It is to their credit that they make me feel as if I should be reassessing Tainted Love (Don't do it, Joe, it's a road to damnation - Ed). Of course, I'm still not going to bother listening to that lame song again, but they certainly did bring me dangerously near to doing so (Yay! - Ed).
Rule 1: Mention their similarity to Ani Difranco.
Pop music has always possessed a fetish for the combination of youth and musical skill, apparently since it takes a mature, world-weary mind to write a catchy pop hook. Considering that Tegan and Sara are a year older than me, I sometimes feel uncomfortable dwelling upon their "youth". However, older participants may wish to make baby-talk voices and pinch their cheeks condescendingly.
Rule 3: Be certain to note that they're twins.
Because it's so damned adorable!
Rule 4: Remind people that Tegan and Sara played at Lilith Fair when they were younger.
This is intended to make the audience conjures up a mental image of the stereotypical unbearable Lilith Fair folk-pop pixie - imagine Lisa Loeb as a twin. At this point, bring in the Ani Difranco reference and blast away this misleading identification with an entirely different mental image. You see, it's all about dramatic tension. Good writing is that easy.
With these basic rules, a solid review of a Tegan and Sara album is practically at your fingertips. A brief example of my own follows, to illustrate the simplicity of this.
Having gone from Lilith Fair to Ani Difranco-inspired folk-rock and now to drawing inspiration from eighties pop and new wave, Canadian twins Tegan and Sara have displayed a continual broadening of their sound as they strive for that piece of pop perfection. Although they haven't quite reached that point yet, the duo show considerable talent and intelligence that belies their youth. Their third album, If It Was You, has just been released a month before their twenty-second birthday and it doesn't contain a sliver of inexperience on its entire body.
Monday Monday Monday and Want to Bad are smartly written pop-tunes that sink their hooks into your ears and don't let go. These two songs, the twin gems of the album, are wonderfully listenable pop songs that exhibit a nuanced emotional understanding while avoiding sentimentality and cliché as they speak of destructive relationships. Time Running and You Went Away combine to form a delicious opening kick, both songs bubbling over with unabashed energy and exhuberance ("When my loud guitar comes in / When my thumping drums come through", they warn you in the latter song, following through on their promise). Meanwhile, Living Room is a gorgeous bluegrass-flavoured song that displays an excellent vocal performance and some sharp lyric-writing.
All of these are songs that musicians twice the age of Tegan and Sara would surely love to write. But Tegan and Sara seem capable of effortlessly tossing off these sort of songs already, even if the rest of the album is not quite as consistently fine as these exemplary tracks suggest. Still, If It Was You is an engrossing and occasionally exhilarating collection of songs, winning you over in despite of yourself. If this is what these two are capable of now, just what will they be doing in ten years time? I eagerly await what comes next.
It's as easy as that - in fact, if it wasn't for those details in the middle paragraph, I could have very well written this sample review without even listening to If It Was You. How's that for simplicity? Now, for those of you at home eager to play along, I would advise you to go out and purchase If It Was You, and better yet, This Business of Art as well. Do so quickly, as Tegan and Sara will not stay young Ani Difranco-inspired Lilith alumni forever, and it might get a little more difficult reviewing them in five or six years once they've outgrown all of these useful labels. Let's be thankful that they'll always be twins.