Who wouldn’t be mortified at the idea of our teenage diaries becoming public knowledge? Whole books, podcasts, and standup shows have been built on the idea of sharing the absolutely cringe-inducing things that we write down when we’re still learning to regulate our emotions before we know better. It’s all done in good fun, with the unspoken implication that we are supposed to share the writer’s relief that they are no longer the silly, melodramatic person they used to be.
Tegan and Sara opt to take a much more earnest approach to their old writings. Hey, I’m Just Like You (★★★★☆) is built around songs the twins wrote in high school, whiling away the time as edgy queer teens in the Calgary suburbs. In resurrecting these songs, they are not only paying tribute to where they came from, they are reclaiming the formative high school years not as deserving of celebration per se, but as worthy of revisiting and examining for how they shaped the course of their lives and careers.
Along with their memoir, High School, released in tandem with the album, Hey, I’m Just Like You is a retrospective project that opens a window on Tegan and Sara’s early career. Even if we assume some post-hoc editing, the songs give us a snapshot of two songwriters with a gift for capturing messy, complex emotions with stark clarity. Despite a relationship that was by their own accounts tumultuous, from the beginnings of their career the two turned to each other to allow their inner lives to breathe through music in a way that their daily lives constrained.
The content of the songs deal with the familiar emotions we might expect — longing, impatience, first loves, and, inevitably, heartbreak. Still, added context complicates ideas that seem on their surface to be universal. “Hold My Breath Until I Die” could be about any teen keeping a secret bottled up from the people around them, but also evokes the particularly suffocating nature of the closet. Early experiences with love and desire are complicated at the best of times, but Tegan and Sara seem to channel the unique frustration that comes with knowing in your gut that you have no use for the various complex unwritten social norms that everyone around you is learning and navigating. Queer coming-of-age stories have until very recently been in short supply, and while queerness is not dealt with as overtly as it is in their memoir, using it as a lens throws the many of the songs’ themes into much sharper focus.
Whether intentional or not, the benefit of hindsight adds depth to many of the songs. Sadly sung lyrics such as, “No, I can’t stay,” interrupt he generally triumphant tone of “I’ll Be Back Someday,” contrasting the young impulse to escape one’s hometown against a longing for roots, connection, and ties that bind. “We Don’t Have Fun When We’re Together Anymore” mourns one such connection that has frayed, set against the backdrop of a small-hours dance track, one of a handful that marries the slickness of their last two albums with the grungy indie quality of their earlier work.
The album is a return to their roots stylistically as well, revisiting their guitar-driven pre-Heartthrob indie rock sound. From rock to pop and now back to rock with glimmers of pop, Hey, I’m Just Like You serves as a reminder that whatever the genre, the pair’s talent as songwriters and their chemistry as performers has consistently been their greatest asset. They deserve credit for not only recognizing the talent that was present from a young age, but rightly deciding it was worth revisiting and presenting to the world.
What is striking about the album is not so much its self-awareness, but that Tegan and Sara are able to look back on the chaos and melodrama of their teenage brains and refuse to shrug off or invalidate them. In revisiting lyrics from their high school years, they tap into experiences and emotional highs that will be familiar to most kids who grew up in the ‘burbs, grounding them in the retrospective maturity that only comes with time.
Hey, I’m Just Like You captures that particularly adolescent frustration of feeling stuck in place but always knowing in the back of your mind that you will be leaving soon, with your whole life left to lead. The impulse to shrug it all off once you’re gone may be tempting, but Tegan and Sara make a compelling case that it is worth going back to every now and then.
Hey, I’m Just Like You can be purchased from Amazon and iTunes, and is available on most major streaming services.
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