Tegan and Sara – So Jealous

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 2)

At some point, Tegan and Sara were reduced to the simplistic tag of “Canadian lesbian twins,” which only goes to show how the truth sometimes does not tell the whole story. It also speaks to the dehumanizing impact of the media, but that’s another story. Among other things, the pair are activists, firmly entrenched in the fight for LGBTQ equalty, and despite their growing success and fame, seem grounded and genuine, having recently released an album of songs they wrote as teenagers. They also collaborated on a memoir about their teenage years. Tegan and Sara seem like good people.

What I Think of This Album

Without knowing more, you might have thought this was Tegan and Sara’s bid for stardom. In fact, that happened several years later, when they successfully embraced a more mainstream pop sound (via 2013’s Heartthrob). Which isn’t to say that So Jealous wasn’t the initial attempt. It is significantly glossier than If It Was You, with many more keyboards and a decidedly ‘80s/new wave feel. At the same time, the twins’ (separate) songwriting has matured, so what you get is a more consistent batch of songs buffed to a high sheen. That’s nothing to turn your nose up at, and I for one have no real problems with artists’ efforts to achieve greater success.

Tegan is slightly overrepresented, with eight songs to sister Sara’s six. Tegan’s work strikes me as more immediate, going straight for the limbic system with traditional pop elements. Take the stacked harmonies on “You Wouldn’t Like Me” or that song’s build from acoustic guitar to fully arranged juggernaut. “Take Me Anywhere” is as pure a song of teenage love as any, with more hooks than there is acne in the average high school classroom. Her streak continues on wordy  “I Know I Know I Know,” with a propulsive bass line and gurgling synth part, and “Where Does the Good Go,” a song of stark lyrical demands and unvarnished emotion.

Her best song may be “I Won’t Be Left,” with powerful vocals (including a great call-and-response/countermelody vocal) and a choppy rhythm. Her most fun song, on the other hand, is the pop-punk “Speak Slow,” the song on which guest Matt Sharp’s (Weezer, the Rentals) keyboard contributions are most obviously “Matt Sharp keyboard contributions.” If “Speak Slow” is candy for kids with a predilection for Manic Panic, “Wake Up Exhausted” is a slower, more sophisticated piece, and “Fix You Up” is a fine and pretty ballad.

Sara’s songs are more challenging, and arguably more intricate. “I Bet It Stung” oozes drama and expertly employs dynamic shifts and pounding drums. The gentle pull of “Downtown” is no less powerful for being subtle (though the loud drums contradict the mood and arrangement of the song). Sara gets the title track, which boasts a number of tempo, arrangement, and feel shifts.

“We Didn’t Do It” is spindly and jagged, again with a very new wave sound – like the Cars trying to cover Gang of Four (minus the politics and the intellectual theory). I have to say I don’t like Sara’s “Walking With a Ghost,” which I guess puts me at odds with the White Stripes, who covered it. This is the track that most nakedly apes the ‘80s (I half-expect Ray Parker, Jr. to make a cameo appearance partway through), and is probably the least melodic. “I Can’t Take It” is an appropriately moody piece, all shadows and mist.

Once again, John Collins of the New Pornographers co-produced.

The Best Thing About This Album

Sorry, Sara, but I lean towards Tegan’s poppiness:  “I Won’t Be Left.”

Release Date

September, 2004

The Cover Art

The cover was designed by Canadian artist EE Storey, who has done work for Death Cab for Cutie and the Rentals. I like it a lot, and I think the pile of small, red felt hearts on the black background is a perfect companion image for the songs on the album.

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