Revisiting Tegan and Sara’s ‘The Con’ ten years later

Ten years after the release of their most celebrated album, they duo are still in our heads.

October 19, 2017

After more than a decade of releasing deeply honest songs about the trials and tribulations of love, it’s safe to assume that Tegan and Sara know a thing or two about human connection. But few albums reveal the good and bad in relationships better than their fifth studio album, The Con. With the start of their 10th anniversary tour and the release of their cover album —The Con X which features artists like Mykki Blanco, Shamir, and Cyndi Lauper — upon us, there’s no better time than now to perform a little musical operation by digging deeper into the meaning (and importance) of The Con. With its unwavering nod to the ups and downs we all face when going head-to-head with matters of the heart, there is plenty to discuss.

Kicking off the album is the Sara Quin penned “I Was Married.” It tells the tale of how Sara and her then girlfriend Emy Storey stood up to the challenges associated with marriage inequality by declaring their common-law status before a notary in Old Montreal. The lyrics bounce back-and-forth between the excitement of getting legally married, while also recognizing that that opportunity is not met with welcome arms in all parts of the world. It’s as political as it is romantic, with a message as deep as its lyrical intent.

Usually dubbed as the duos darkest album, listening to The Con from start to finish highlights the extreme mood shifts during its 14-track run. In fact, there is little emotional consistency to be found. The album effortlessly flows between fearless joy and unrestrained sadness without spoon-feeding the full story to its audience. Take for instance the jump into the title track. Both the pace and mood of the song changes rapidly from the songs placed before it. But it’s here that we understand the true meaning the album’s title, as we listen to Tegan spell out a list of reasons why conning someone into loving you won’t bring you the happiness you deserve.

Then there are the tracks that describe the intense anxiety and stress that can come from being in a relationship you’re not entirely secure in — captured perfectly in Tegan’s “Are You Ten Years Ago.” Most notably here is the use of the word “taken,” as if being with your significant other can often feel like you’re “taken” from yourself — or others in general. The lighter side of that thought process is more obvious in tracks like “Back In Your Head” and “Hop a Plane.”

Of course, nothing gets you in the feels quite like the raw and emotional versus crafted in “Nineteen.” At any show — no matter its arrangement — hearing “Nineteen” is just the thing to induce automatic tears across the faces of thousands of fans. Instantly. The emotional response from fans are so intense that Tegan avoids eye contact in the front row during their shows, as it makes her feel “very sensitive.” From its dramatic melody, to its devastatingly on-point lyrics, it’s hard to imagine a better song to capture the innate emotions felt during the throes of first love. Maybe you’ve heard it a hundred plus times, or perhaps it’s a song you can never fully get through — regardless, “Nineteen” is forever etched in our brains as a song that just “gets it.”

However, it’s not simply a record about intimate relationships. While writing The Con, Tegan and Sara experienced great loss when their grandmother passed away. This allowed the twins to touch on the demons we face when forced to acknowledge bittersweet endings and the reality of death. That’s where we look to tracks like “Burn Your Life Down” and “Knife Going In” to help us better understand how to deal with delicate topics, like coping with high-stress and anxiety.

How lucky are we to experience something so wonderful twice in a musical lifetime?  

Even though the sisters have spoken in general terms about The Con touching on the subject of relationships and the death, they tend to keep the full, often intensely personal meaning behind their songs to themselves. That leaves things up to interpretation, allowing fans to uncover hidden meaning behind their music on their own.

That’s why the beauty in the Quin sisters asking their closest pals and musical companions to record covers from The Con is not lost on anyone; asking those closest to them to interpret their songs and present them to the world is a gift we never knew we needed. It’s an opportunity to hear everything we loved about the album during its inception in a completely different light. How lucky are we to experience something so wonderful twice in a musical lifetime?

With the anniversary tour on the horizon, there’s no doubt that Tegan and Sara will automatically bring you back to a period when you felt like they knew exactly what you were feeling, without knowing you personally. So, in lieu of the duo’s epic return to The Con, their comeback should be enjoyed with someone that’s made an impact on you, just as the music and lyrics of The Con have stayed still in your heart for the last ten years.

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