Part One: In which our heroines sequester themselves in their homes to write the follow-up to 2004 breakthrough So Jealous.
Tegan and Sara Quin spent the entirety of 2006 (after touring with the likes of The Killers and Ryan Adams in 2005) holed up in their Vancouver and Montreal homes, respectively, toiling over bedroom recordings and exchanging ideas across the Great Frozen North. The resultant effort, The Con, is a decidedly glossy pop endeavor over oft-trodden heartbroken clichés.
This time the twins have employed none other than Mr. Tin-Fingers himself, Chris Walla (Death Cab For Cutie), to handle production. Contributions from Matt Sharp (Weezer) on bass, Jason McGerr (Death Cab For Cutie) on drums and Hunter Burgan (AFI, also on bass) make for a star-studded affair. Even Walla lends his tinny touch on keyboards and guitar. Still, the immediacy of So Jealous, the rampant hooks, the blissful melodies, the bare honesty that never treaded too far into mawkish eye-batting, is largely absent from The Con (or in the case of eye-batting, too prevalent).
Part Two: In which we learn that not even matching asymmetrical haircuts can rescue The Con from mediocrity.
Because the sisters split songwriting duties evenly, there is a marked delineation between each track. Tegan’s numbers reflect her more obvious pop-punk influences and Sara’s demonstrate a more mature approach to the formula of heartbreak. “Knife Going In” skitters around eastern-sounding guitars and the clambering of eerie keyboards in what must be the sisters’ most adventurous sonic experiment to date, while “Hop A Plane” struggles to venture beyond a third chord. Gone too are the ringing acoustic guitars that informed much of the duo’s earlier recordings.
The bouncy piano line of lead single “Back In Your Head,” anchored with shakers (compliments of Mr. Walla) and hovering keyboards, is the closest T&S come to replicating the feel-good misery of breakups that breathed so much life into So Jealous. “Nineteen” is an all-too typical lament to youthful indiscretion set to a repetitive guitar riff. Standout “Are You Ten Years Ago” pulses along a rhythmic stampede of cymbal as shuddering guitars ricochet off the dense vocal layering, but even a few good songs fail to balance out the lackluster ones. The album seems lopsided as such, and, like their haircuts, perhaps requires some reevaluation.
Part Three: In which Tegan and Sara return to the drawing board.
With any luck, Tegan and Sara will find some respite from what seems like an endless reserve of lovelorn musings and release the feel-good pop album of 2008. Or at least rediscover symmetrical haircuts.