Music Reviews


(Young Turks) Rating - 10/10

Pole dancing is problematic. We know it takes incredible core strength to do well, and it’s become a symbol of fitness and empowerment over the years, but it’s unlikely to ever fully shake its connotations with stripping. When FKA twigs released cellophane earlier in 2019 – her first new music for over three years – the accompanying video, featuring her pole dancing, drew more comment than the song itself. For twigs, however, it was a reclamation of self, an acknowledgement that the body that had betrayed her was under her control once more. Two years ago, fibroid tumours in her uterus were causing her immense pain, and she eventually went under the knife to have them removed. FKA twigs is a performer who realises her artistic vision through dance and movement as much as music and lyrics, so it’s unsurprising she chose to announce her return in such a way.

It’s similarly unsurprising that she references her ordeal throughout MAGDALENE, her follow-up record to 2014’s critically-acclaimed LP1. In an Instagram post, she shared that the tumours were “the size of two cooking apples, three kiwis and a couple of strawberries.” As a result, there are allusions to fruit throughout MAGDALENE. Most notably on home with you, which is ostensibly about a relationship, yet it features the lines, “Apples, cherries, pain / Breathe in, breathe out, pain.”

home with you also features the first reference to the album’s inspiration: the Biblical figure of Mary Magdalene, an Apostle to the Apostles who has been misunderstood throughout history. A saint in some churches, the misapprehension that she was a prostitute or “sinful woman” continues to this day, and it’s that duality that appears to have attracted twigs. In a recent interview, twigs explained the home with you line, “I’ve never seen a hero like me in a sci-fi” refers to the fact that, even in the age of Wonder Woman, we still rarely see nuanced depictions of femininity on screen. Female characters, even when strong and powerful, are routinely one-dimensional, rather than the complex, multi-faceted beings we all are.

FKA twigs has always looked to explore that in her work, and it’s clearer than ever on MAGDALENE. The title track’s first lines, sung a cappella, are “A woman’s work” (a nod to Kate Bush, perhaps?) and “A woman’s prerogative.” sad day, a track mostly sung in a sweet, high tone, asserts, “I lie naked and pure with intensions to cleanse you and take you.” Those familiar with twigs’ previous work will know that the key theme is intense relationships, and MAGDALENE is no different in that respect. However, whereas earlier she was preoccupied with the kind of symbiotic codependence that proclaims lust as an intoxicant and was as fatalistic as it was alluring, the themes are broader this time around. Sure, there are still shades of the daring eroticism that characterised Two Weeks, but now there’s heartbreak, introspection and self-acceptance added to her repertoire.

Part of this broadening of the palette is likely to be due to the experiences that have shaped twigs’ life since the release of LP1 five years ago. As well as medical trauma, she’s spoken out about being pigeonholed as an R&B artist purely because she’s a woman of colour (a ludicrous assertion given her work owes more to Björk than Beyoncé), and suffered racist abuse and media scrutiny thanks to a relationship with actor Robert Pattinson. Whilst it’s not explicitly clear that he’s written about on the record, it’s tempting to conclude that cellophane in particular, with its closing couplet of “They’re hating, they’re waiting / And hoping I’m not enough” is related to the experience of their partnership.

Lyrically, MAGDALENE is endlessly fascinating with plenty of avenues to explore, but the actual greatest leap forward has been sonically. FKA twigs has always been adventurous with her collage of sounds, but there has always been a tendency for her work to be easier to admire than to love. On MAGDALENE, we find a rare example of an artist shifting slightly closer towards the mainstream and being artistically rewarded for doing so. The bursts of static and white noise which have never been too far away are used sparingly and expertly here, and her voice, which has always been a powerful and diverse instrument, has never sounded better. sad day shows she can be both clipped and raucous in the same track, while home with you veers between Tricky-style claustrophobia to angelic as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Nowhere is this clearer than on mirrored heart, a lurching ballad where her voice fades to a croak as she sings, “For the lovers who found a mirrored heart / They just remind me I’m without you,” before, just a few lines later, it’s an anguished wail of “It’s all for the gain / It’s all for the lovers trying to fuck away the pain.”

Crucially, FKA twigs now has the songs to match her magpie eye for production. She hasn’t gone full verse-chorus-verse three-chord boogie, but she’s found the ability to maintain her unique vision and inimitable style whilst creating tracks that wouldn’t sound out of place on commercial radio. holy terrain, her collaboration with Future, has hints of the trap beats that have been unavoidable ever since Migos first started making waves, and fallen alien match a snarling defiance to an irresistible hook.

MAGDALENE can’t be seen as anything other than a triumph. FKA twigs’ work up to this point marked her out as an artist with the potential to do something truly great, and we should count ourselves lucky that she’s delivered so early into her career. It’s beautiful, inventive, catchy, heartbreaking, addictive, and bursting at the seams with ideas. It captures a performer truly at the top of their game, throwing everything into a project so that not one second is wasted. It’s a record that makes you fall in love with music again, a record you feel privileged to experience and a record that imparts fundamental human truths. Cherish FKA twigs and cherish MAGDALENE.