Photo Credit: Eluvier Acosta
It’s hard to know where to place identical twin duo Tegan and Sara Quin in the current musical landscape; having released their debut Under Feet Like Ours in 1999 at the tender age of 18 years old, they enjoyed relative commercial success in the mid-2000s and even a Grammys nomination in 2012. They’ve long enjoyed a cult following, yet find themselves somewhat adrift as they release their tenth album – and their first post-pandemic. They haven’t quite benefited from the nostalgic boost that many of their noughties peers have as of late, their influence on the pop landscape of the 2020s remains unseen and unclear, and despite being signed to indie stalwarts Mom + Pop, they haven’t enjoyed the sort of critical reassessment and recognition that other veteran pop artists have.
It seems as though their latest Crybaby could have marked a turning point in their careers – if executed well, serving to jumpstart newfound appreciation for the duo’s musical talents (Aly & AJ enjoyed something comparable following the release of 2021’s well-received A Touch of the Beat Gets You Up on Your Feet Gets You Out and Then Into the Sun). But in the end, Crybaby ends up feeling uninspired and self-consciously minor. There are various new ideas and directions that pop up across the album’s 40-minute run-time, but rarely are they explored with much passion or commitment.
“All I Wanted” evokes early-mid 2010s mainstream pop, but it’s both too dated to feel fresh and too afraid to be a pastiche to invoke nostalgic charm (not to mention that the musical era it borrows from is simply too recent for such to be the case). “I’m Okay,” meanwhile, reads as a flaccid ode to the female rock stars who broke out, and paved the way, just years before Tegan & Sara debuted. Chipmunked vocals open the song – sounding like a pale impression of the signature wail of Sleater-Kinney’s Corin Tucker. Meanwhile, the chorus cries “We will win!” recalling early-Bikini Kill without any of Kathleen Hanna’s indelible bite.
Crybaby works in fits and starts; the opener “I Can’t Grow Up” is the album’s best song (which doesn’t help with the anti-climatic feeling bogging down the rest of the album). Like the aforementioned “I’m Okay,” its roots in the riot grrrl music of the ’90s are obvious, but it more successfully recreates the genre’s charm, while adding the duo’s signature synth-pop charm. It finds the duo invigorated and it is grounded by a simple, searching question – “How do I know when it’s time to let go?” The outlier ballad “Faded like A Feeling” is another success for the duo’s tenth LP – a ballad that while by the numbers sonically, is sung with real heart, conviction, and remorse. It’s the most affecting the band has sounded in a while.
Maybe it’s because the album’s best moments overwhelmingly occur in its first half, or maybe it’s just because there are simply too few of them, but Tegan and Sara simply cannot salvage the disappointing Crybaby. Too much of it relies on tired metaphors and similes (see: “F*cking Up What Matters”) and cynical attempts to appeal to younger audiences (see: “Smoking Weed Alone”). Arguably, Tegan & Sara have earned this album; they have earned a moment to rest on their laurels and take a victory lap, but it’s hard nonetheless not to be disappointed by this new addition to their discography. The arresting album cover, which sees a metal blade placed atop a vanilla ice cream, suggests an edginess and willingness to take risks that are simply absent from the bulk of Crybaby.