It’s a bold move for any artist to dig up a bunch of old songs they wrote during high school. When Tegan and Sara revisited their cassette demos from the ’90s, they worried that their earliest material might suck (as anyone who has ever unearthed their previous fashion choices from Bebo understand). But Tegan and Sara Quinn have always had flair; they’ve reimagined their adolescent demos as swaggering indie-pop songs – and there was plenty to work with.
The duo have injected serious heft into the reworking of this early material, which accompanies a new memoir, entitled High School. Some of their demoes have surfaced online over the years, meaning you can contrast this record’s title track, ‘Hey, I’m Just Like You’, with the two-decade old demo ‘Plunk Song’ on which it’s based. Though some of the goofier lyrics have been axed completely (RIP “My pants are huge and chocolate covered”) and other lines pruned and tidied up, the essence remains broadly the same. Often, it creates an inherent tension between the past and the present.
When, on ‘Hello, I’m Free’, a souped-up version of the demo ‘Hello’, Sara Quinn sings a repurposed line such as, “Right now, I wish I was older”, her original snarled cry for connection strikes a slightly different tone. This time you sense that maybe she was singing about a vaguer and more elusive kind of experience, rather than age itself.
But set aside ‘Hey, I’m Just Like You’s nifty concept and you’ll see that the record stands up without novelty value. ‘Hold My Breath Until I Die’ is a slightly macabre slab of slinking heartbreak; ‘Keep Them Close Cause They Will Fuck You Too’ glimmers and claws; and on the title track they finally score their first ever explicit song rating. It only took them nine studio albums to drop the F-Bomb – and here, it’s spat with delicious relish.
Some will perhaps hail this record as a return to the duo’s rockier roots, though that’s not necessarily true. Over the course of two decades, it’s been impossible to pin Tegan and Sara to one specific record or sonic direction. Place their snappy 2016 release ‘Love You To Death’ next to the synth-pop curveball ‘Heartthrob’, the punchy indie of ‘The Con’ or the biting ‘If It Was You’, and you’ll see a band that loves shaking things up. Their only truly consistent quality is their ability to cut straight to the emotional core.
Presented as verbatim reproductions, the songs on ‘Hey, I’m Just Like You’ would function as a pile of dogeared artists sketchbooks – but picked up again and turned into hefty indie-pop bangers, this serves as an honest, vulnerable, and occasionally brutal reminder of what Tegan and Sara have always been best at.