FKA Twigs rewrites the Mary Magdalene story
Avant-garde British singer FKA Twigs returned with her first project in four years on Friday, Nov. 8. The highly-anticipated Magdalene is a glimpse into the distorted interiority of FKA Twigs, a masterful depiction of the connection between pain and beauty.
The release of Magdalene comes a few years on the heels of a well-publicized breakup with former vampire Robert Pattinson and about a year after FKA Twigs revealed that she suffers from fibroid tumors. In fact, the struggle of dealing with the pain of heartbreak and physical afflictions while under the public gaze is discussed in a few places across the album (most notably “thousand eyes” and “cellophane”). The emotions on display are so intimate and imbued with jagged resonance that at times it feels wrong, almost intrusive, to be listening to the album, as though you’re reading pages out of someone’s post-breakup diary.
The album’s title refers to Mary Magdalene, a devoted follower of Jesus who has developed a widespread, inaccurate reputation as a repentant prostitute due to centuries of ecclesiastical confusion. She is representative of both the vitriol with which the sexuality of women is treated by Western institutions as well as how information and communication can be corrupted through compounding misunderstandings. Both of these connotations play a role on Magdalene. FKA Twigs certainly does not shy away from sexual themes (e.g. her references to masturbation on “daybed”), and many of the songs about romantic relationships revolve around her struggles with reciprocity and misunderstandings: a similar gradual decay of truth that led to Mary Magdalene’s promiscuous reputation leads to disintegration and heartache for FKA Twigs: “I didn’t know you were lonely / If you’d have just told me, I’d be home with you.”
In spite of the overall strength of the project, certain tracks manage to stand out even in comparison to the rest of the album: “fallen alien” is a stunning, acerbic reflection upon a failing relationship featuring some of the most creative production on the project, and “cellophane” is an aching ballad draped in detuned, icy piano.
The production is handled by an eclectic collection of eminent artists, including the likes of Skrillex, Oneohtrix Point Never and Jack Antonoff (as well as FKA Twigs herself). Perhaps the guest producer with the most evident influence on the overall sound of the record is Nicolas Jaar, whose creative sound design and use of empty space is fundamental to the cold, glitchy emotional resonance of the project.
In my experience as a music critic, I have found it much easier to discuss bad albums than good albums. This is not because I enjoy being cruel or derisive (quite the opposite) but because I am lazy. Bad albums tend to be bad in similar and identifiable ways, whereas good albums tend to be, by their nature, idiosyncratic and very difficult to describe or dissect in a way that feels sufficient. The emotions conveyed by an excellent project such as Magdalene are impossible to convert back to mere language. The album’s exploration of internal disjunction and its relation to anxiety, fatigue and love is deeply impressive, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.