Four years after her dark and dazzling debut, FKA Twigs dials down on sensuous soundscapes and instead delivers a far more introspective record. MAGDALENE explores the effects of physical and emotional trauma in visceral fashion. Certainly, it stands as one of the year’s most striking pop albums. It’s often bursting with ideas, though you can almost pinpoint them track-for-track. The piano chords on “home with you” are taken directly from Thom Yorke’s pamphlet of solemnity and sadness, whilst “sad day” is pretty much a 2019 reimagining of Hounds of Love. To be clear, this is far from a bad thing: there are worse influences to have than Radiohead and Kate Bush. However, I do think MAGDALENE suffers from a lack of originality.
When the plan comes together, it results in some stunning moments. “fallen alien” is a sci-fi banger that even Björk would be proud of, with multiple musical passages and riveting spots of production. Most importantly, it sounds wholly unique. Although it gets somewhat lost amongst the back-end lull, “cellophane” is another fine example. There is no doubting the spirit behind FKA Twigs’ music, and whilst I think LP1 remains her most enjoyable work, her words have reached greater depths here. There’s proof of artistic maturity, which makes the inclusion of a mediocre Future-featured hip-hop cut even stranger, and so much more disappointing. It seems as though MAGDALENE strives for an understated pop epic, yet this is a curious contradiction in itself. For all its instances of greatness and undeniable beauty, the record gets tangled in its own aspirations.7 10
Favourite tracks // fallen alien
When we reviewed Ghosteen by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, my main issue with the album was its tendency to drift. Although the production and arrangements formed a grand backdrop for Cave’s musings, there was no real impetus to drive things along. It felt more like a spoken word art project than a fully formed album. My experience with MAGDALENE has been much the same.
As I write this there a few moments from the album that come to mind. FKA Twigs coos her way through 40-odd minutes of ethereal art pop and then it’s over. The mixing, full of shimmering synths and kooky glitch effects, is all very shiny and impressive, but without an obvious direction there’s not much to separate the tracks from tech demos.
The back to back efforts of “mary magdalene” and “fallen alien” are easily the best moments the record has to offer. They’re bold and powerful songs. Beyond them, I don’t think there’s much to get excited about. I’ll be following FKA Twig’s career with interest, but I doubt I’ll be returning to MAGDALENE.6 10
Favourite tracks // mary magdalene
FKA Twigs has been around for a little while now, but she still carries an air of a musician who’s not completely shown her hand yet. MAGDALENE is an assured and heartbreaking album but, outside its emotional weight and sharp composition there’s not a huge deal to get excited about.
The album is a pleasant experience with excellent production, some really punchy hooks, and undeniably gorgeous vocals. Despite those qualities, I can’t help but be disappointed by the safe choices that have been made throughout. For supposedly avant-garde pop it’s extremely familiar ground, coming together like a mash-up of ideas taken from Janelle Monae, St. Vincent, James Blake, and even Ariana Grande. The result is an album that sounds great and has some brilliant moments, particularly on “mary magdalene” and “fallen alien”, but never seems to break any ground that hasn’t already been mined by FKA Twigs’ contemporaries. Perhaps I’m wrong to expect boundary-bending ideas, but for an artist that seems to thrive on the transgressive and non-conformist, MAGDALENE is quite paint by numbers.
The writing is impactful, but it’s not anything we’ve not heard before. Breakups are awful – did you know? The sincerity of her delivery and the rawness of such personal lyricism is lost on me while I wait to be reminded why FKA Twigs is a big deal. It’s not bad, but it is disappointing.6 10
Favourite tracks // mary magdalene