Tegan and Sara - If It Was You (2002)
1. Time Running
2. You Went Away
3. Monday Monday Monday
4. City Girl
5. Not Tonight
7. I Hear Noises
8. Living Room
9. Terrible Storm
10. And Darling
11. Want to Be Bad
12. Don't Confess (This Thing That Breaks My Heart)
It's Tegan and Sara day (unofficially). To get me even more psyched for their concert tonight, I've decided to review their second label release, If It Was You (I already reviewed their most recent release So Jealous, which you can read HERE). And by "review", I mean that I will be heaping lavish praise in the attempts to get everyone to buy the album who hasn't already.
This is the album that made me a Tegan and Sara fan. I'd gotten into their lead off singles from the album "Monday Monday Monday" and "I Hear Noises", and then I heard "Living Room" and that was it for me. I had to buy all their CDs from there (which, at that point, was this one and their debut, excluding their self-released album). Since then, I've read a lot of reviews and interviews from and of the girls. Here's a list of terms that you are sure to come across in many a Tegan and Sara review or interview: twins, Canadians, folk-rock, acoustic, Ani di Franco, Lillith Fair, Alanis Morissette, lesbians. I don't know why, but writers always seem to want to define their music by who they are, and not what the music itself is.
The most troubling for me are the folk-rock, acoustic, Ani di Franco comparisons. Where have these writers been for the past 3 years? Yes, their debut album This Business of Art deserved those comparisons. But If It Was You does not, nor does anything they've done since. And yes, they are twin Canadian sisters who happen to be gay. This doesn't mean that music sounds anything like Alanis Morissette, Melissa Etheridge, Avril Lavigne, or Fefe Dobson (the last two I actually read from someone who obviously hadn't listened to that which he was supposed to be reviewing). And the Lillith stuff generally comes from any reviewer uncomfortable with the fact that he's listening to female pop singers, and thus needs a label.
What Tegan and Sara are is two pop performers who sing, write and play their own songs. Their songs are lyrically driven, and almost always deal with the subject of love. Their songs aren't feminist anthems, or anthemic at all for that matter, but rather personal songs about personal feelings that are purposefully gender-neutral. "He" and "she" pronouns are replaced with "you" and "we" and "they" so that any listener can relate. Straight girls can feel like the songs are written for them, guys can feel like the songs are written about them, and lesbians can smile in the knowledge that someone is putting out solid pop songs from their perspective. As for the acoustic thing, only "Not Tonight" and "And Darling" fall into the strict acoustic category, with "Living Room" falling into an acoustic rootsy area with its awesome use of banjo. Other songs contain acoustic guitars as part of the entire pop arrangements which includes electric guitars/bass/drums and organ.
For the most part, the album is an up-tempo, poppy 37 minute exploration of love and its effects. It's not a pop album that you can dance to so much as it's one that you want to sing along to while driving, working, or cleaning your apartment. If I haven't made this abundantly clear already, the focus is unabashedly on matters of the heart, in it's myriad of forms (both happy, sad, and everything in between). This tendency is best illustrated in a lyric from track 6 "Underwater", "I would go to jail with only boys, just to prove I was as tough as you. And when I get out for good behavior, I'll be writing love songs; silly banging knee songs". As this lyric, and indeed the song in general, reveals is that Tegan and Sara realise that their are those who feel they should toughen their image a tad to fit better in the indie world they find themselves in, but they simply choose not to.
And there's nothing wrong with that. This is easily one of the most enjoyable albums I have to listen to in my collection. Which isn't to say that it's an entirely happy album, or to say that it's a lightweight, guilty pleasure album either. They deal with their share of heartbreak in the album, without it ever devolving into an exercise of navel-gazing. And the lyrics on the album are complicated and interesting enough to work on a cerebral level without ever becoming too complicated or precocious that it would take away from the pacing of a song or album. What If It Was You is a front to back, track 1 to 12, solid offering of melodic pop goodness. It's one of my favourite albums ever, not diminished at all by the fact that I've listened to it hundreds of times.