On Second Listen: Tegan and Sara – Sainthood

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Before we forget 2009, it’s a good time to go back to late October and discuss an album that for one reason or another was pushed aside in favor of others. The album is Sainthood, by twins Tegan and Sara. Re-teaming with producers from their previous two albums (Chris Walla and Howard Redekopp), the Canadian twosome took the production values from The Con and continued on with a pretty solid record.

Despite indie acclaim and a cultish fan base, the Tegan and Sara Quin’s biggest claim to fame may be The White Stripes’ cover of their song, “Walking with a Ghost”, back in 2005. They seemed to really breakthrough with 2007’s The Con, one of the best albums to come out that year. Sainthood doesn’t reach The Con in terms of start-to-finish quality, but many songs display that knack for writing a good pop song Tegan and Sara have just about mastered at this point in their careers.

“Hell” was and is a good choice for the first single. Upbeat with breathless vocals, the track typifies the hesitance to move to the next step in a relationship, whatever that next step may be. (“No I’m not ready for a downtown trash/Avoid collection,” I should mention in a song if I want to change). Three songs deep into the album, it should be established that these women need to work with Walla for the rest of their careers. Walla’s band mate in Death Cab for Cutie, Jason McGerr, provides drumming on the album, with a nice assist in “ON Directing”, which is driven by McGerr’s drumbeats.

One of the best songs on Sainthood is “The Cure”, named after the band that inspired it. It certainly has the feel of “Love Song”, musically, but lyrically it’s much more dour:

All I dreamed up
All that seemed like luck seems silly to you now.
All I said to you
All I did for you
Seems so silly to me now.
The rhythm section on this album (as well as The Con) takes Tegan and Sara’s music to another level, a plain that never quite reached on previous records. The bass and drum on “The Cure” seem to play a role in the song that is just as important as the lyrics. They set the mood.

Sainthood has a few missteps, namely in the second half of the album. The one-two misfire of “Alligator” and “Paperback Head” is a misbegotten ode to Madonna, with the former paying homage to “Holiday” and the latter paying respects to, well, “Holiday”. “Alligator” is supposedly the second single of the album, which is a mistake-and-a-half. These two songs and a couple others prevent Sainthood from reaching Top Ten lists.

“The Ocean” and “Sentimental Tune” are not one of those songs. They are both high-driving and pop-infused. “The Ocean” is a speed demon with tales of long-distance relationships (“Stop crying to the ocean/Stop crying over me/Stop worrying over nothing/Stop worrying over me”). “Sentimental Tune” could have fit easily in The Con, with its tongue-firmly-in-cheek lyrics (“You hate the tenderhearted torch song/You catch a flame to my sentiment/My sentimental tune”). They both lead into a finale with “Someday”, with interesting vocal delivery. It’s as though the vocals were recorded without knowledge of the music they’d be sung over, but it works, it really does.

Sainthood is a very good album. A few songs miss the mark, but not enough to downgrade the highs. It could easily convert those on the fence, and lay to waste any doubts that Tegan and Sara are a novelty act. They’re definitely much more than that. They’re Canadian…

…and they’re two of the finest pop writers recording today.