Date: September 8th, 2004
Author: Laura Sinagra, New York Times
Publication: International Herald Tribune
Headline: Twins Seek the Mainstream
NEW YORK A lot has happened in the way of lipstick lesbianism since 2002, the year that the 23-year-old gay Canadian twins Tegan and Sara Quin released their plaintive third album, "If It Was You." The throbbing hits of the Russian duo Tatu, whose onstage petting was eventually revealed as a publicity ploy, reverberated in dance clubs. The cable television channel Showtime launched "The L Word," its answer to HBO's "Sex and the City," and Madonna locked lips with Britney Spears at MTV's Video Music Awards.
While these were essentially stunts, the Quins legitimately pushed boundaries. Though their album sold only modestly, even by indie-rock standards (18,000 copies), its classic songs represented a striking departure from the gentle strumming and crunching blare of many gay female artists.
From the middlebrow radio hits of Melissa Etheridge and the edgy acoustic poetics of Ani DiFranco to the riot-grrl yell of Sleater-Kinney and the jazzy bash of Tribe 8, lesbian musicians have largely hewed to two pop traditions: folk and punk. Tegan and Sara's exuberant new album, "So Jealous," which will be released on Sept. 14, offers something a little different.
Shrugging off comparisons to their fellow Canadians Avril Lavigne and Alanis Morissette, the photogenic twins nonetheless push toward mainstream tastes with sparkling hooks and singalong choruses. Their songs reclaim some of the fun and energy of '80s New Wave for girls who love girls.
Making pop wasn't always their plan. When the Quin sisters started writing songs in high school in their hometown of Calgary, Alberta, they thought of themselves as punks. By the time they won a local battle-of-the-bands contest, though, they were writing in an urgent folk vein more akin to DiFranco's. When at the age of 18 they made their first album, "Under Feet Like Ours," with money borrowed from their grandparents and came out as gay (their liberal family took it in stride), their music found an immediate connection with DiFranco's younger fans.
The sisters, who charmed live audiences with their salty stage banter even before their musicianship had matured, became a hit on the folk-dominated women's festival circuit. But there was always something in their songwriting that suggested pop. Their songs were built on infectious melodies and short repetitive choruses. Solo, both sisters sang with a tough veneer over a vulnerable, postadolescent pridefulness. Together, their taut voices create an eerie blend that chimes as effortlessly as that of the Roches.
But it wasn't until signing with Neil Young's Vapor Records at the age of 19 and touring with Young and the Pretenders in support of their folksy second album, "This Business of Art," that their music moved in another direction. The Quins turned to John Collins and David Caswell, the producers responsible for the lush, insistent sound of the indie-rock band the New Pornographers, and thereafter Tegan and Sara's pop inclinations came to the fore.
Unlike the New Pornographers' delightfully tricky paeans to modernity, Tegan and Sara's angsty lyrics about love and loss are the stuff of emo anthems. "If It Was You" was a rich mix of shining guitar and pumping keyboards flecked with Moog synthesizer burbles. It won the sisters indie-rock converts and got their lesbian fans pogo-ing in the front rows at concerts.
And now, the winsome "So Jealous" delivers even more confident pop songwriting complemented by Caswell and Collins's warm retro tones. The timing is right for this kind of girl-rock manifesto. As emo has recently given young boys a chance to explore their deeper feelings, this multilayered record is aimed at young women, gay and straight, looking for smart songs that explore the fun side of taking yourself very seriously. "I Won't Be Left" finds the slightly more guttural-voiced Tegan insisting: I won't mistake you for problems with me And I won't let my moods ruin this you'll see. There's a humor in the twins' frequent references to self-doubt, especially in light of the fact that they have met with virtually nothing but success since the moment they picked up their guitars.
The new album's opener, "You Wouldn't Like Me," in true Collins-Caswell fashion, introduces the twin voices over propulsive guitar strumming, teasing us with a wavering keyboard tone. By the time the drums kick in and the twins are belting their reflexive recrimination "I feel like/I wouldn't like me/if I met me," everything in the music tells you differently. Blurts of insecurity, though firmly held, are ultimately fleeting.
The album's best song is "Walking With a Ghost," in which Sara half-heartedly banishes the lingering memory of a lost lover. Though Tegan and Sara continue to play gay-friendly festivals and speak openly about their sexuality (they are prominently featured in the September issue of Out magazine), they and their record label are betting that the Quins' brand of pop will appeal to both gay and straight record buyers. And if the mainstreaming of all things lesbian helps them to do it, so much the better.