There's no through-line to the way Tegan and Sara think about romance on their seventh studio album. Sometimes love heals all wounds; other times it's the wound itself. And occasionally it serves as a mere accessory to more pressing matters, as in the disc's lead single, "Closer." "All I dream of lately," they sing over a throbbing disco-rock groove, "is how to get you underneath me."
Yet if "Heartthrob" presents a believably irregular vision of how love happens, the album does it with an immediacy and a directness that feels new for these Canadian twin sisters, who have built a devoted following of indie-minded fans. In "Goodbye, Goodbye" and "Drove Me Wild" they trade homey folk-pop guitars for sparkling new-wave synths, while "How Come You Don't Want Me" rides an '80s-style drum-machine beat reminiscent of the Human League hit that almost shares its title.
You can attribute that sonic shift in part to producer Greg Kurstin, who gives "Heartthrob" some of the mega-pop gloss he's given recent hits by Pink and Kelly Clarkson. ("I Couldn't Be Your Friend" has a keyboard sound seemingly repurposed from Kurstin's work with Lily Allen.) But in urgent, deeply felt tunes such as "Closer" and "I'm Not Your Hero," Tegan and Sara appear determined to be understood — inconsistencies, contradictions and all. Juicy, radio-bait choruses may just be a means to an end.