"It's a political song ... but it's a personal song."
So says Sara Quin, one-half of the Canadian indie-rock duo Tegan and Sara, of the track "I Was Married." But the statement also applies to the dichotomy that runs throughout The Con, the group's recently released album. On the surface, it has the positive energy of a sunlit wedding ceremony. Dig deeper, however, and you'll find its heavier message on the public and legal obstacles for gay marriage, an institution that is not recognized in 49 out of 50 states in the U.S.
The song is certainly a statement, replete with confusion, anger and even sadness toward the government's "control against the rule of one magnet to another magnet," as the identical twins sing in the first verse of the song. As Sara explains, "There is homophobia in every corner and pocket of this world, but at the core ... you just love someone and want to make mixtapes for them" (both sisters are gay). But even in their most controversial and argumentative lyrics there is bittersweet harmony and optimism.
With seemingly few artists in popular music speaking out on political issues, there is a boldness in the controversial lyrics of "I Was Married," which is why Death Cab for Cutie's Chris Walla, who produced The Con, decided it would be the most intense way to start the record, according to the duo. The song begins and ends with softer lyrics about the innocence of the love between Sara and her partner, while the body of the song details the stone government buildings that serve as obstacles to the recognition of that love.
"There is a whole spectrum of feeling deceived, but also feeling uncontrollably attracted to something," Tegan explains. That sentiment serves as inspiration for "I Was Married" and the last track, "Call It Off," which lament both public and personal impediments to romantic union. Perhaps, then, the album is pessimistic by structure, as the "give up" song, as Tegan refers to "Call It Off," ends the story. At a recent show at New York's Hiro Ballroom, however, Tegan and Sara played the songs in reverse order, leaving the audience with the hope and inspiration of "I Was Married."
The album's three acoustic songs — "I Was Married," "Call It Off" and "Soil, Soil" — also play into the structure of the album. "We had this really interesting concept about book-ending the record [with acoustic songs] and then having one of them in the middle," Sara explained.
All of these contrasts make The Con a more cohesive and thematic album than their breakthrough 2004 release, So Jealous. "I love So Jealous, and I hate critiquing our albums too much because they become so special to the people that love them," Sara said. "But So Jealous was not as dynamic as our new album" (see "Twin Rockers Tegan & Sara Separate So They Can Continue To Work Together").
Whether The Con will be as ecstatically received by fans as So Jealous remains to be seen. "There were definitely parts of So Jealous that didn't feel as cohesive," Sara said. "Although it was a really strong album, it didn't have as much depth. I feel much more confident with the new album."
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