In the past, the inherent quality of Tegan and Sara’s scrappy tunes has always eclipsed the duo’s actual talent. And, really, that’s been an essential part of their charm: In spite of their nasally voices and ramshackle instrumental skills, these twin Canucks have wrangled their hooks through sweat and persistence, expanding and refining their sound with each subsequent album — from the bratty Lilith Fair-emo of 2004′s So Jealous to the layered, sculpted art-pop of 2007′s The Con and 2009′s Sainthood. But with their seventh studio album, Heartthrob, Tegan and Sara are no longer underdogs. Working with a top-tier trio of hip producers (Greg Kurstin, Mike Elizondo, Justin Meldal-Johnsen), they’ve plunged head-first into slick, air-tight ’80s synth-pop, each melody and riff buffed and waxed with studio sheen.
Turns out, commercial grab-ass is their true calling: Heartthrob is nuclear-catchy from start to finish. Tegan still handles the robust arena-friendly singles: bittersweet, butterflies-in-stomach electro-anthems like “Closer” and “Drove Me Wild.” Sara’s songs — even within this high-gloss context — are still quirkier and more eclectic: “Now I’m All Messed Up” is heart-melting piano ballad turned new-wave belter; “Shock to Your System” closes the album with a sensual R&B stunner, mingling spacey synth flurries with a sparse piano-drums groove. Heartthrob is a glitzy parade of nostalgic, windows-down catharsis — 36 minutes of escapist pop bliss.