Over two decades, from their beginnings as a divisive young duo in the Calgary music scene to grunge-folk icons, pop hitmakers, beloved queer icons and everything in between, the most constant element for Teagan & Sara has been change. Not in a cataclysmic pattern of frequent upheaval, but in slow, subtly noticeable ways where you could clearly chart a logical progress from album to album. If you go from their 2004 widespread breakthrough So Jealous straight to their shift into shimmer-pop stars with 2016’s Heartthrob, it seems like a gigantic jump, but it always made sense that they’d get there someday, if you knew how to look. It’s all about the hooks, one of the duo’s perennial strong suits. It’s no wonder they created one of the most infectious movie songs of all time. Their latest album, Hey, I’m Just Like You, is the proof in the pudding that they’ve always had hooks in their blood.
The story goes that when writing High School, their memoir of teenage angst, rebellion, and acid (and Kurt Cobain) worship, the sisters unearthed a treasure trove of boombox-recorded demos the two had put together in their most primitive states that had gone untouched since their adolescence as burgeoning songwriters and guitar players. Rather than just releasing them in a shiny, multi-disc package sure to be mined for gems and discarded, they did something different: they took the songs, gently massaged them – “With only minor tweaks to lyrics and structure, we tried to remain true to the original essence of each song,” explained Sara in the album’s announcement – and re-recorded them entirely.
Many songs here have something that will make you sing along after a first listen: There’s “Hey, I’m just like you/ A little messed up and blue/ Hey, I’m just like you/ Not sure what the fuck I’m to do” on the title track. There’s “Run run run run/ Run away!/ Get get get get/ Get away!” on “I’ll Be Back Someday.” There’s “I wait, but when I get lonely/ Your words won’t make me stronger/ The luck that brought you to me/ Won’t hold us any longer” on “I Know I’m Not the Only One,” which also gives us a bonus, shout-ready outro bridge of “I know I’m not the only one/ I know I’m not, I know I’m not/ I know I’m not the only one” that they totally underutilize.
Hey isn’t as chock-full-o’-hooks as their last couple albums – and, in the end, it’s not quite as strong as those even at its best – but for the earliest work of two Canadian teens, spit-shined by their most self-assured adult selves, it’s a remarkably satisfying collection.
Part of what makes the album so compelling is that it functions as a stylistic best-of, where the band takes new (or, rather, new to us) tracks and pours each of them into whichever previous version of themselves might fit best. Most of them are shiny pop songs, but even these don’t stay there; the title track gives us handclap beats and ‘80s synth, but also moments of soaring guitar riffs and acoustic guitar breaks, while “Hello,” I’m Right Here” only hints at the glitter of the songs around it, more content to spend most of its runtime as an aching piano-and-violin ballad.
Elsewhere, “I Know I’m Not the Only One” and “I’ll Be Back Someday” force that poppiness into the backseat while they deliver chugging guitars and pop-rock bravado. Even the weakest track here, “Don’t Believe the Things They Tell You (They Lie),” makes you think it’s just going to be a Heartthrob-era sounding track until it hits you with a left hook in the form of guitar distortion ready for the arenas they were playing on tour with pop giants like Katy Perry. They even go back in time almost entirely with the gorgeous, almost entirely acoustic (save for the faintest sparkle of synths) “Please Help Me,” which manages to feel both totally out of place and perfectly delivered all at once.
The brilliant thing about Hey, I’m Just Like You, especially for longtime fans of the band, is that it leaves the door wide open for the duo to go in whatever direction they’d like after this. From here, they can lean into their current reality as shiny popsters, which is probably the most obvious move. Or, they can reverse track and use the experience – and the experience of playing these songs acoustic on tour for the book and album – as an excuse to re-explore their original form as angst-folk aestheticians with the joyful aplomb that made them household names for every single disaffected queer kid since “Where Does the Good Go” corkscrewed its way into their hearts (and wormed its way into their ears) 15 years ago. Whichever direction they head in, you can bet it’ll be satisfying and catchy, just like they – as Hey shows us – have always been.