[dropcap]T[/dropcap]hese days, they sing Oreos jingles and tour with Katy Perry because we BitTorrented all of their albums and you can’t use street cred to buy things. But back in 2004, Canadian twin sisters Tegan and Sara Quin had just released So Jealous — which turns 10 years old this week — and were up to their noses in doting proclamations from subterranean tastemakers. I first heard So Jealous when a fellow intern at the Weekly Dig (that’s what they called DigBoston back then) turned to me and said, “Hey, you should listen to this band that I’m super excited to interview later. They kind of sound like The Ramones.”
“Hm, I like The Ramones. Perhaps I will enjoy this,” I presumably replied.
Then I put on the headphones and thought to myself, “Hm, my fellow intern must be an insane person. This sounds nothing-at-fucking-all like the Ramones.”
But that’s the kicker about the siblings Quin. I don’t remember where I read this or who originally made the observation, but some other writer once pointed out that if a listener wants to assign Tegan & Sara a genre, there’s evidence to validate a whole bunch of different labels. Do you want Tegan & Sara to be a punk band? Then you’ve got “North Shore” off 2009’s Sainthood. Do you want Tegan & Sara to be glittery electro-pop? There’s “Closer” from last year’s Heartthrob. Want you some weepy acoustic folk? “Living Room,” off 2002’s If It Was You. Do you inexplicably want Tegan & Sara to play some sort of goofy slam-poetry-ish thing? Zoom: there’s “The First,” off 2000’s pre-turning the corner effort, The Business of Art.
Throughout the 2000s and beyond, the Quins have sought universal accessibility, which is not the same thing as pandering to the lowest common denominator, FYI. So Jealous isn’t flawless. It’s not the best Tegan & Sara album. 2007’s The Con is better. So is Heartthrob. But So Jealous does mark Tegan & Sara’s first encounter with crossover pay dirt via “Walking With A Ghost.” It garnered the band the first of many accusations of going too commercial, and it absolutely holds up better than most of what alt-weekly interns were saying was awesome in 2004.
In celebrating the record’s 10th anniversary, which arrived yesterday, to be precise, we ran it through the New Ordered machine and decided to rank its best sons from best to worst.
1. “We Didn’t Do It”
When asked what inspired “We Didn’t Do It,” and to clarify its intended message, Tegan Quin said her sister wrote it and she has no idea what it’s about, really, according to a T&S fan site. The quote’s unattributed, but it’s a reasonable thing to say. Thematically, “We Didn’t Do It” is one of the most ambiguous bits on a mostly self-evident record. The title’s misleading. Sara Quin sings, “We didn’t do it for the money” and “We didn’t do it to be happy.” So whatever the “it” is, the “we” of the story are, in fact, at least partially responsible, and feel the need to explain themselves. It’s also by far the darkest track on So Jealous, by way of its ominously swaying keyboard and broody, plodding bass line. When the siblings wail “Get in my car! It’s too full!,” I’ve always imagined a hurried flee from a bloody crime scene.
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2. “Walking With A Ghost”
It would probably be disingenuous to ignore the notoriety-boost this one got from the ramshackle rendition released by The White Stripes — a much bigger band at the time. But the original T&S version trumps J&M’s. The White Stripes’ take lacks the understated synth sojourn from the original’s chorus, and adds little apart from noisy interludes and Meg White’s questionable drumming chops. Like “We Didn’t Do It,” Sara Quin authored this one, and went the abstract route with the lyrics. Back in 2008, Tegan told The Juno Awards she suspects Sara wrote it about a girl who was bumming her out, which is a drag, only because a song about an actual ghost would’ve been more exciting.
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3. “Speak Slow”
There’s an outstanding possibility “Speak Slow” was the track my arguably misguided, unpaid colleague showed me to justify a Ramones comparison. “Speak Slow” may exist in a realm far away from the heyday of CBGB, however it absolutely displays the penchant for pop punk Tegan & Sara have since continued to pull out of their arsenal every now and again. Actually, I just tried to envision the Queers covering this song and it was much easier than I anticipated, so maybe it does sound like the Ramones and I’m dumb?
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4. “I Can’t Take It”
At 4 minutes and 28 seconds, “I Can’t Take It” is the longest tune on So Jealous. It’s also the slowest, and most somber. Of course, heaps of emo-y baggage are strewn throughout this record, but “I Can’t Take It” is the only time on So Jealous where they get straight-up sad. If someone called this song boring, I’d say that’s a valid takeaway, even if I happen to disagree. I’m a sucker for a good “whoa.” About three minutes in, Sara Quin accesses a relationship problem, and describes her only available strategy for solution thusly — “I can whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa.” You sure can, Sara Quin.
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5. “You Wouldn’t Like Me”
Oftentimes, records will begin with their most obviously attention-grabbing track. That isn’t the case with “You Wouldn’t Like Me” — the rhythm section and keyboards don’t even show up until the it’s halfway over. But the song does an expert job setting the tone for what’s to follow. In fact, all you have to do is read the lyric, “You haven’t called me in weeks and honestly it’s bringing me down,” to get a pretty good idea what you’re going to be hearing for the next 40 minutes or thereabouts.
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6. “Take Me Anywhere”
Here, we have another breezy foray in which Tegan & Sara grab a cup of coffee with pop punk. Goes to show how a minor, if not seemingly superfluous detail can put a song over the top. Predictably, Tegan (I think?) sings “You would take me anywhere…” Unpredictably, Sara (right?) responds to the call, “Anywhere!” and it’s totally fun.
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7. “Fix You Up”
The aforementioned Pitchfork jerk singled out this one for sentimentality that boarders on cheesy. That’s sorta kinda a fair criticism. Perhaps the only lyric that could possibly be more cornball than “This love is all I have to give,” in “Fix You Up,” would be something like “I love the rock ‘n roll,” and, oh shit, that line also appears on this record. But y’know what? Life is cornball sometimes. Plus the only reason this song appears so low in these rankings is I’m afraid people will make fun of me if I notch it as high as I originally wanted to.
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8. “Wake Up Exhausted”
If someone had told me Tegan & Sara would be performing in stadiums in 2014, I probably wouldn’t have believed that person. However, the gnarly post-chorus guitar lick in “Wake Up Exhausted” might’ve prompted me to second-guess my now-proven-incorrect assumption.
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9. “So Jealous”
Same goes double for the title track. My problem with the titular tune on So Jealous is the buildup to the chorus — in which Sara Quin declares “I want the ocean right now! I want the ocean right now!” — and the subsequent chorus itself are mind-flatteningly cool and I’m mad the whole song isn’t like that.
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10. “I Bet It Stung”
Indeed, “I love the rock ‘n roll” is a fairly worthless lyric, but it gets a few points back for catchy delivery.
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11. “I Know, I Know, I Know”
Some may consider dropping this one so low on the list a controversial choice. To them I say, there’s nothing especially wrong with “I Know…” but it comes dangerously close to crossing the threshold between endearingly sincere to saccharine — maybe even, dare I say, “cutesy.” Somewhat astoundingly, not quite 10 years later, Tegan & Sara did an ‘80s bumble-gum techno pop album with no cutesy bullshit to be found.
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12. “Where Does the Good Go?”
I remember that I once considered “Where Does the Good Go?” one of the better So Jealous songs, but I think 2004 me mostly liked it ‘cause it was one of the few songs he could figure out the bass part for. The chorus marks another instance wherein Tegan & Sara show their potential for the sonic grandiosity required for the future stadium tours, but the verses have the same problem as “I Know…”
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13. “I Won’t Be Left”
I can’t decide whether this is a genuine filler song, or if it just feels like a filler song because it’s stuck between “Downtown,” the most negligible track off So Jealous, and “Walking with a Ghost,” possibly the record’s least-negligible bit.
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Not terrible, but it feels like I’m listening to it for the first time every time I hear it… ‘cause, I always forget it entirely immediately after it ends.