REVIEW: Tegan & Sara: If It Was You
Tegan and Sara: If It Was You [Universal Music, 2002]
Two words and some punctuation? Less ... , more !.
If It Was You has brought Tegan and Sara closer to their grrlish roots: punkier, poppier and much louder. They have turned down the acoustic guitar that played such a big role in their 2000 debut, This Business of Art, and in its place introduced a more driven electric guitar, slams of percussion and, for fun... a banjo. With the help of producers John Collins and Dave Carswell (New Pornographers/The Smugglers), Tegan and Sara have shed their Ani Diffranco "speak/spit/hum/growl" sound, and now give the listener a more refined and polished pow!
"Time Running" kicks off the album with a strong kick-drum beat and a powerful electric crunch. Sadly, this energy doesn't carry through. Initially jam-packed with excitement, this feeling mellows: the songs slow down and become more melodic, and there's a resultingly uneven feel. Nevertheless, If It Was You is, as a whole, an enjoyable album. Inspiration comes from several different sources, most notably Tracy Chapman and her ardent, forceful vocals. This, with the sombre electric guitar of early U2, evokes a more steely, dangerous brand of folk.
Being identical twins, Tegan and Sara boast a truly unique singing ability; their harmonies border on the telepathic. Ultimately, it's the girls' rough-hewn, honest singing style that gives If It Was You its kick. It's got the sweat-and-cement feel of a live show, lights hot on the performers' faces, an energized resolve in their eyes.
In "Time Running", they declare: "Time, you’ve got me running/Time, you’ve got me tired/I’ve got more for the world than this". Both try hard to deliver more, lyrically, than in the previous album. This is no longer about teenage awkwardness; Tegan & Sara have matured and moved on to a variety of twentysomething material. Their tales go from the mundane ("Living Room" sings cheekily of peeping toms) to the heartfelt ("Don't Confess" addresses the hardship of depending on others for affection).
Although This Business of Art has been a regular in my CD rotation since its release in 2000, If It Was You's sonic departure is disappointing to those of us who counted on the band for softer, more tender work. All the same, this album will claim a place on my playlist - albeit a noisier, more vigorous place - and though Tegan & Sara's music has grown a thicker skin, the record is packed with interesting vocals and a carefree sound that remains a pleasure to hear.