‘Magdalene’ is a bruise of a record
Review: FKA Twigs’ haunting second studio album features cut glass vocals, production from Nicolas Jaar and playful references from Kate Bush.
Label: Young Turks
There are few more misunderstood Biblical figures than that of Mary Magdalene. Erroneously conflated with other characters, and variously demonised as a prostitute, a hermit and an outcast, apocryphal texts actually describe her as a healer and a confidante to Jesus, while the scriptures themselves place her as a key figure at both the crucifixion and the resurrection. The narrative of women being underestimated and derided is as old as time itself, but for FKA twigs this particular portrayal resonated deeply, providing the initial spark of inspiration for the follow-up to 2014’s LP1.
Born out of a period of personal upheaval during which the Cheltenham-born artist weathered a debilitating health condition and the collapse of long-term relationships, Magdalene is a bruise of a record, painfully exposed but unapologetically so. Its very existence is an act of defiance; a feat of radical self-care in a society where women are indoctrinated to prioritise everyone but themselves. Twigs says as much in the first verse of Mary Magdalene, while playfully referencing Kate Bush – often the most persistent point of comparison in attempts to define Twigs – in the opening line: “A woman’s work /A woman’s prerogative /A woman’s time to embrace /She must put herself first.”
The bar was set with lead track Cellophane, a heartbreaking piano ballad and Nicolas Jaar collaboration that features only the subtlest touches of electronic distortion, and is easily Twigs’ prettiest and most straightforward single to date. Magdalene never quite approaches such simplicity again, but throughout there’s a haunting spaciousness to these productions compared to the restless percussion of LP1.
Thousand Eyes is essentially a chorale, layering Twigs’ cut glass vocals with muffled piano and the sporadic thwack of drums, while the Skrillex, Jack Antonoff and Future-assisted Holly Terrain crafts sensuous trap from ghostly loops and digital tics. Home With You is more complex and yet still eerily serene, juxtaposing unnervingly distorted, semi-rapped verses and percussion that sounds like a succession of fatal power surges, with florid clarinet trills, flute runs and celestial strings.
The final minute of Mary Magdalene ranks up there with Twigs’ finest moments to date – its syncopated melody, zigzagging across the most subterranean of basslines – alongside the entirety of Fallen Angel, which stitches together three disparate songs and boasts a fantastically vitriolic vocal performance from Twigs. Magdalene is an ambitious and dense body of work, but at no point does innovation come at the expense of emotion or melody.