By Al Kaufman
It's got to be hard for twins to be taken seriously in the music business, especially twins that look robotic, dress to compliment each other, and wear pixie cuts. It's too easy to dismiss them as a cute novelty act. Tegan and Sara Quin are no novelty act. They've been making CDs for over 10 years now and Sainthood, their sixth, is their best.
What the twins have done is taken the best parts of their previous efforts – their punchy pop harmonies and their dabbles into electronica – and created something new. Sainthood is a bit harsher than previous efforts. Opening track "Arrow" and "Northshore" have punkish qualities about them, especially in the case of "Northshore"'s staccato phrasings. The cuts add some meat to the tasty side dishes.
Another factor is the Quins are older now. While they look forward to their 30th birthdays, their songs have taken on more adult themes as they search for devotion and the behaviors necessary to find happiness. Their CD title comes from fellow Canadian Leonard Cohen's "Came So Far for Beauty," in which the elder statesman of love and relationships sings "I practiced all my sainthood/I gave to one and all/But the rumors of my virtue/They moved her not at all." Not exactly the bubblegum stuff of a Britney Spears.
There still is some gum chewing here. Some of their songs, such as "The Ocean" and "Nightwatch" come across as throwbacks to the days of '80s new wave bands in the Missing Persons vein. And when they utter the lines "I get talking like a teen/Go steady with me" ("On Directing"), or "Wish you'd call" ("Red Belt"), it's easy to remember the earlier, more vulnerable Tegan and Sara that were barely out of high school. Except here it almost feels like they are confident enough to expose their soft white underbellies. They sound like they are in control even when they plead.
Much of this has to do with the music. The tightly wound melodies crackle with energy, or at least passion. They unabashedly mix guitar power chords with synthesizer beats. And their voices blend as only the voices of twins can.
And they can swagger, too. When they sing, "I've got the cure for you," ("The Cure"), you better believe the medicine they're talking about doesn't come out of a bottle.
This is good stuff. It doesn't all work, but at least it's interesting, which is more than can be said for most of the pop out there.
Tegan and Sara play Variety Playhouse on February 23.