For all the fan outrage at their current direction, the poppification of Tegan and Sara is hardly unprecedented. Furthermore, the band has spent most of the last decade telegraphing the direction they intended to take. For all its acoustic instrumentation and punky energy, their debut album – Under Feet Like Ours – is built almost entirely around sing-along chorus. Their 2013 album – Heartthrob – was a full fledged push into glittering synth-pop, and its style was mimicked on Taylor Swift’s huge hit 1989. Love You To Death may be even more pop than ever before, but that doesn’t mean the duo have sacrificed their excellent songwriting.
Lead single Boyfriend is a great example of the sheer quality of the sisters’ writing. This album sees the Quins allowing themselves to divulge more personal details than ever before, and that quality shines through in Boyfriend. Over the pulsating production of Greg Kurstin, they sing about a former love triangle, supposedly one involving Sara Quin, a bisexual woman, and the man she was still dating. Avoiding salacious details, the duo cut right to the emotional heart of the concept, with Sara feeling unsure and neglected, but also defiant – “you turn me on like you want your boyfriend / but I don’t want to be your secret anymore”. The gendered language in the chorus – “you treat me like your boyfriend” – adds a delightfully non-heteronormative spin to the story, but the duo focus more on the universally relatable feelings of impatience and a fear of commitment.
Stop Desire, also produced by Kurstin, could easily fit on any major pop blockbuster album this year. The explosion of synths in the chorus sounds huge, and the playful melody – “tonight, you’re fuel for my fire” – is a great match for the confident and romantic lyrics. That Girl is a great album opener, with mature lyrics – “when did I become that girl / that girl I see” – and a sparkly, yet tense beat. The album’s only real misstep is 100x. The track itself is actually quite excellent, telling the story of someone making a drastic move after falling out of love – “it was cruel of me to do what I did to you” – but the piano-only instrumental feels out of place amongst the more complex productions surrounding it. Several moments in the song feel as though they’re screaming for a beat to drop, but it never does.
Love You To Death is another excellent album from Tegan and Sarah, showing that the 80’s pop sound has life yet, and also that such explorations don’t dilute the duo’s emotional songwriting. If anything, the depth and honesty of the lyrics seem to be enhanced by the simple, pop backdrop that Kurstin provides. It contains some of their best work, and despite not being 100% coherent, Love You To Death is another solid entry in the duo’s formidable catalogue.