Review Summary: Hey, I'm Just Like You Pt. 2: Electric Blandaloo
Tegan and Sara have been reminiscing a lot lately, haven’t they? In fact, their previous outing Hey, I’m Just Like You
was all about nostalgia. The duo found old recordings from their teen years and recontextualized them to fit their current sound and style; the fact that their High School
memoir was released around the same time was just icing on the cake. But if you thought that album cycle was the final time they’d take a look back, think again. Their memoir is now being turned into a television series, seemingly presented as a coming-of-age story while the duo navigate 90s rave and grunge culture. But honestly, if there’s any sort of group whose backstory is worth exploring, it’s Tegan and Sara. After all, the duo who experimented with synthpop sounds in the 2010s were the same duo who began their career playing folky indie rock while adorned with lip piercings. They’ve gone through several changes over the years, but you’ve at least gotta respect the adherence to their DIY roots through it all.
is somewhat of a continuation on Hey, I’m Just Like You
; that is to say, the merging of electronic and acoustic elements is still there. However, the punk and indie infusions have been seriously scaled back from the previous project, leaving more room for concentrated blasts of sugary power pop. This can be a good or bad thing, depending on which aspects of Hey, I’m Just Like you
you preferred; on one hand, those who are looking for the more rock-oriented cuts will be quite disappointed. On the other hand, Crybaby
comes off as a more focused affair because of its dedication to a more singular sound. You won’t get jerked around much genre-wise, since this project doesn’t try and reconcile two different T&S eras like the last one did. As for the songs that do
merge sounds together a bit more, I’d single out “Faded Like a Feeling” and “Yellow” (not to be confused with the Coldplay song, although the video pays tribute to it) as the standout cuts. Both songs opt for a more alt-rock style with a nostalgic 90s vibe, but the glossy production and slick synths ensure that they don’t come across as mere throwbacks.
Still, this might be the most conflicted I’ve felt about a Tegan and Sara album to date. I understand that the duo want to continue with the commercial pop experiments, but this is the first time that their synthpop era has actually felt a bit… well, dispassionate or uninspired. Sure, Love You to Death
had their share of detractors (and let’s be honest, most of them were OG fans of the two) but I never got the sense that they were making the pop move to “sell out” or out of contractual obligation, which is why they were able to put their own stamp on it. But there’s something somewhat plastic about Crybaby
, whether it’s in the stock rinky-dink beats of “Under My Control” or the annoyingly processed backing vocals at the beginning of “All I Wanted”. And the production choices aren’t the only victim here, as the songwriting is a bit lacking as well. Much of the material here is simply rote and safe, leaving a dull and muddled affair; you’d think high-energy pop songs like “I’m Okay” and I Can’t Grow Up” would break up the monotony and offer some levity, but they just rehash old ideas from previous synth-era T&S records. It’s not like these tracks are doing anything wrong
, but there’s nothing that makes them stand out either.
And that’s the thing: there’s nothing on Crybaby
that’s striking or provocative, but that’s precisely the problem. I mean, just look at the tracklist: “Fucking Up What Matters”? “Pretty Shitty Time”? “Smoking Weed Alone”? I feel as though those titles should warrant something more exciting or subversive, but they’re consistently betrayed by the bland music. This is the first time I’ve truly heard Tegan and Sara spinning their wheels artistically, and it makes me wonder if they’re due for another stylistic shift like the one they initially made with Heartthrob
. Perhaps that would be enough for them to get out of the stylistic rut they’re currently in with Crybaby
, and it would certainly provide them more avenues to express their ideas.