Over the course of a career that has spanned nearly 25 years, Tegan and Sara have been through a lot, and their latest album “Crybaby” (2022) shows it. The Canadian indie pop duo released their first album, “Under Feet Like Ours” (1999), when they were a mere 18 years old. Since then, they’ve put out another nine albums, most recently “Crybaby” on Oct. 21. Over those decades, they’ve evolved from an Alanis Morissette-esque angsty pop-rock sound — “If It Was You” (2002) and “So Jealous” (2004) — to a more mature, poppish tone with “Heartthrob” (2013) and “Love You to Death” (2016). Their musical journey has been analogous with their journey of growing up out of high school adolescence and into adulthood, and now, having just celebrated their 42nd birthdays last month, they’re showing the most mature versions of themselves yet on “Crybaby.”
The songs work together thematically and show growth — musically and lyrically — but the album as a collective is not quite there, with songs that are going a lot of different directions sound-wise.
There are several solid tracks: “I Can’t Grow Up,” the opener, draws listeners in with catchy lyrics (“Gimme, gimme all of your love” is repeated several times) over a synth-pop background. “Fucking Up What Matters” raises a theme the pair sings about often, articulated artfully: “I treat you like a credit card I can’t afford/ I drain you like a bank account until there’s nothing more.” “Yellow” brings in a repetitive chorus of “This bruise ain’t black, it’s yellow (I’ve been gone too long),” making it the most meaningful yet catchily ‘singable’ song. “Faded Like A Feeling” is one of the best — a quieter, slower, and more reflective song that harkens back to Tegan and Sara’s older music and contrasts with a lot of the other tracks.
All of the songs lean into the idea of being a crybaby. The album is the duo’s version of throwing a tantrum, according to Tegan.
“‘I would love to be able to do that every once in a while. I’d feel better if I could just toss myself on the ground and have a good ol’ tantrum. … As adults, we suppress all of that tension, anxiety, sadness, disappointment and we’re just a mess,” she said in the duo’s artist bio.
On “Crybaby,” instead of suppressing it, they’re playing it up and out. Tegan called one of the major themes of the album the “empowerment that comes with being vulnerable and accepting your feelings.”
But the sound is a little all over the place. Tegan and Sara have always been a bit of everything and open to experimentation. Their last album, “Hey, I’m Just Like You” (2019), revisited songs they wrote as teenagers, and they recently released an acoustic version of “So Jealous.” Their memoir called “High School” (2019) was recently adapted into a TV show of the same name. On “Crybaby,” it seems like they tried to experiment with doing it all. Many of the tracks are good on their own but don’t quite work together as an album. That attempt to span genres and sounds just slightly missed the mark.
“I don’t want to make the same record twice. I think for Sara and me, each time we go and make something, we have to take risks or else it’s not worth doing. I want that jolt and that excitement,” Tegan said in an interview with Consequence.
So by that metric, they’ve succeeded, but as a listener who knows how good they are even when they’re stripped down — see “Still Jealous,” the 2022 acoustic version of “So Jealous” — the experimentation is disappointing, rather than exciting. The attempt to try out different sounds and vibes is admirable, but it misses the mark on this album. Although the lack of cohesion takes away from the album as a whole, the songs themselves are good, exploring the themes and asking the questions that Tegan and Sara have always asked, if a bit more maturely.