Tegan And Sara Heartthrob: Structural Analysis

My favorite album of 2013 is Heartthrob by Canadian twin sister duo Tegan And Sara. I had never heard their music before, but saw a slew of great reviews when this, their newest album, was released in the Spring of 2013 so I bought the album sound-unheard. Loved it immediately. These songs are joyous, refreshing, surprising, crazy-hooky, and undeniable. I've been listening non-stop ever since, and so have my elementary school -aged children who are drawn to good pop music like a magnet.

There are melodic, chordal, and structural elements to these songs that make this such an effective pop album, and I've been curious to analyze these building blocks. This evening I sat down and listened to the entire album and made some notes regarding the musical skeletons of the songs. For any songwriters or producers, I think you'll find this data compelling.

Before I dig into the structures themselves, here are some overall observations of the album:

+ the Heartthrob album contains 10 songs, clocking in at 36 minutes total
+ the album contains no instrumental solos
+ guitars are on the album, but are barely audible
+ although the album is assembled by three different production teams (and, I assume, different sessions/locations) there is a great sonic continuity throughout

Below are some scans of my structural analysis. I mapped out very basic blocks of content in horizontal lines, with my interpretations of what's going on in the composition: VS (for verse), VS A (for verse with an "A" section), VS 2 B (for second verse's "B" section), CH for chorus, PRE (for pre-chorus), etc., and other more specific or hook-related commentary. Then I did some color coding of important recurring structures: neon yellow for BRIDGE, green for VERBAL HOOK, pink for BREAKDOWN.
Let's check out these songs in the order they appear. "CLOSER" is the kickoff tune, the record's first single, and the first song Tegan And Sara have ever had in the American pop charts. It's a great radio song, of course, and I think the structure is a big reason why. Observations on "CLOSER:"
+ no intro, opens immediately with vocals
+ there are two extra-vocal hooks "AH AH" and "I WANT YOU" that are used interchangeably throughout...nicely unpredictable!
+ we are introduced to the most common song structure of the album...the utilization of verses with both A and B sections, a bridge (often combined with breakdown), and tasty extra-vocal hooks.
"GOODBYE GOODBYE" continues the successful shape of "CLOSER" with almost the same tempo and groove, and a nearly identical skeleton.
"I WAS A FOOL" repeats this basic structure again, although with a mellower groove. Quite a one-two-three punch at the top of the album.
"I'M NOT YOUR HERO" shifts gears, with a much more basic shape.
"DROVE ME WILD" might be my favorite song on the album. It returns to the general "CLOSER" structure, and has a different melodic and attitudinal character than the previous tunes, perhaps due to the influence of co-writers Ossama Al Sarraf and Ned Shepard, making their only appearance.

Side B of the album utilizes a wider variety of structures. To my ears, a highlight of these deeper cuts is "LOVE THEY SAY" which does a neat trick in the second round...the pre-chorus is cut in half. A nice surprise for anybody paying attention.
"NOW I'M ALL MESSED UP" is probably the least-friendly song on the album, but the late-arriving hook "GO, GO" shows up after chorus one and becomes the focal point of the whole piece. By the end of the tune a "GO/STAY" vocal counterpoint becomes a interesting reward for the attentive listener.
"SHOCK TO YOUR SYSTEM" closes the album with its most rock-oriented arrangement. Built on heavy drumming, it's a departure from the rest of the songs, but its appearance at the end of the album doesn't mess with the overall vibe. Similarly to "GO, GO" in "...MESSED UP", the extra-vocal hook "WHAT YOU ARE" shows up post-chorus and becomes a cool thesis statement, lyrically and musically.

Okay, so these thoughts are pretty chilly and nerdy, but I think the pop brilliance of these songs and this album's production was worth a bit of dissection. The whole point being if you like ultra-melodic pop music and cool New Wavey production, this album is a slam dunk! And if you're a songwriter or producer yourself who would ever hope to get radio airplay in 2013, this album is a fine tutorial.


Clint said…
You are beyond cool.

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