Your old high school journals are probably full of thoughts you would rather burn than let the whole world read. For Tegan and Sara, the lyrics they wrote together between ages 15 and 17 prove to be worth a thrilling return and revamp. This is the basis of the twins’ ninth album Hey, I’m Just Like You, which serves as return to high school feelings as well as a meeting point for the indie rock and synth-pop elements of their sound.
Hey, I’m Just Like You’s source material is not presented in the raw but the pair do their best to maintain their teenage melodrama while giving it a more mature boost. On album opener “Hold My Breath Until I Die,” they launch this experiment with a dose of pop-punk death-and-love metaphors: “In my dreams, the blood runs from my eyes/If I fall, will you catch me in your arms?”
The songs are chock full of that familiar high school hurt, which feels like a gut-punch after the seductive straightforwardness of their rock-to-pop pivot in recent years. In some ways, it makes the confidence of their last two albums feel more satisfying: the achingly heartbroken teens who wrote lonely tunes like “I Know I’m Not the Only One” and “Please Help Me” would eventually pen the more emotionally certain singles “Closer” and “Boyfriend,” from Heartthrob and Love You to Death respectively. This LP feels like the prequel to a gratifying coming-of-age story about pop girlhood.
True to the artistic roots that produced these songs, Tegan and Sara also slide back into the guitar-driven sound of their pre-2013 career. “I’ll Be Back Someday” is a slice of Nineties college rock radio, while “I Don’t Owe You Anything” has an arena-rock bent. Meanwhile, some of the sadder songs necessitate a similar sonic mood, best exemplified on the gorgeous piano and strings-driven “Hello I’m Right Here.”
Though their hook-crafting abilities weren’t an invention of their last two LPs, that skillset was certainly tightened through the experience. The updated version of their then-nascent songwriting is translated into punchy, full-grown bops. Alongside their “return to rock,” dance-pop moments still find their appropriate place; “We Don’t Have Fun When We’re Together Anymore” recalls Honey-era Robyn while the title track starts off ethereal before building into a sweeping, cathartic dance floor burner.
Since the album demands a careful balance of both identity and genre, Hey, Im Just Like You feels like something wholly outside of and unplaceable within the Tegan and Sara canon; while its not quite as fledgling as the songs may have been in their original nature, the album itself doesn’t feel as tight as their of-the-moment projects. But maybe that’s what makes this type of experiment — teenage musical revisitation — successful. “Right now, I wish I was older/And right now, I wish I had closure,” they sing on “Hello I’m Right Here.” This album grants both those wishes.