That Tegan and Sara Quin went full-on ’80s Friday-night skate party on their new album, Heartthrob, isn’t a surprise. The sisters have always incorporated candy-coated synths in their music, and, in recent years, they’ve made guest appearances on tunes by techno gods Tiësto, Morgan Page, and David Guetta. Still, the synth-slicked Heartthrob takes some getting used to. With über-pop maestros Greg Kurstin (Santigold, Pink), Justin Meldal-Johnsen (Paramore, M83), and Mike Elizondo (Dr. Dre, Eminem) sharing production duties, the album’s music is glossier and fuller than the duo’s previous fare.
Electronic drums, luxurious keyboards, and other digital effects fluff up Heartthrob’s catchiest moments—lead single “Closer,” squiggly indie-rocker “Goodbye, Goodbye,” and the Fleetwood Mac-esque “I’m Not Your Hero”—and shroud the Quins’ vocals with a synthetic sheen. In fact, Heartthrob has an unapologetically nostalgic glow: “I Was A Fool” resembles a big-hair-era Heart power ballad, while the piano-driven, R&B slow jam “Now I’m All Messed Up” sounds like Prince’s “Purple Rain” by way of The Weeknd, and the strident “Drove Me Wild” sasses like Stevie Nicks’ “Stand Back.”
At times, Heartthrob can feel a bit too polished because of such manicured instrumentation. But overall, Tegan And Sara make the album work, mainly because their songwriting is more sophisticated. Eschewing straightforward introspection, the pair instead tackles broader topics on the love continuum. “How Come You Don’t Want Me” is a harrowing song written from the perspective of someone not taking rejection well; “Now I’m All Messed Up” details the crushing moment when a relationship crumbles; and “Goodbye, Goodbye” is about being strong (and clear-headed) enough to let go of past emotional baggage. There’s even room for happy endings in the vulnerable love song “Love They Say” and the first-blush-of-romance fizz of “Closer.” (“I won’t treat you like you’re oh so typical.”) In the end, in spite of the fancier veneer, Tegan And Sara remain honest chroniclers of romantic minutiae.