CLASSIC REVIEW: FKA twigs, MAGDALENE
I’ll keep it 1000% with you all right now: I’m tired as fuck. I usually like to kick these classic reviews off with a thematic or conceptual tie-in that will rope back around at the end, but working a full-time job has led me to this annoying cycle where I try to listen to an amazing album in one ear while being distracted by “important business”. I have to go back to sleep, then back to work soon, and I would simply postpone this if I wasn’t so familiar with FKA twigs’ work already. I know that Hannibal Burress made a really great statement in his Pitchfork interview a while back where he said the reviewer should disclose what they were up to when they were listening to the music in question. I was blasting Magdalene on my break today, and a few times while meal prepping and cooking myself dinner. Will that affect my full vision of the album? 100%. Will I have enough time to really dive into interviews and context like I would prefer to? No, I won’t. But as experimental and abstract as this album is, I feel that the emotions are direct enough to make it very accessible. So with all that in mind, here is my review.
Breakup albums are deceptively easy to create. All the raw emotion is there by default, there is an added handicap of honesty that other albums may not have. The trick, in my opinion, is taking the intricacies of a longstanding relationship and blowing them up to a level that is really entertaining. “Let It Happen” by Tame Impala is a prime example of a track that takes the hurt feelings that come from an ex and displays them in full, panoramic technicolor for everyone to enjoy. You can’t be too bitter, unless you go full bitter like JPEGMAFIA’s violent “REBOUND!”. It’s all about making definitive decisions with the art, and Magdalene does. From start to finish, it makes all the right choices. “thousand eyes” starts it off with twigs desperately trying to reason with her soon-to-be ex (in this case Robert Pattinson) with a “what if”, Schrodinger’s cat scenario. “If I walk out the door it starts our last goodbye / If you don’t pull me back, it wakes a thousand eyes,” she drones, diving deep into how fucking sad breakups really are. When she leaves, he will never see her ever again. If he doesn’t try to patch things immediately, she is free to be with whoever she wants. Ending a relationship really does feel like killing a person when described in that way, and the brooding intrigue stirred up by the booming bass and twigs’ intense performance establishes those stakes appropriately.
The pairing of Nicolas Jaar, an underground AntiArtist, and Noah Goldstein, a commercial AntiArtist who brought to life some of the best mainstream music of all time (Endless, Yeezus) on “thousand eyes” and the following stunner, “home with you” is a stroke of genius. The flow between these tracks is impeccable, and portrays that empty void left in the absence of love post-relationship. She is angry, stewing on the verses, seemingly imagining everything that her former lover is up to. Meanwhile, the soaring piano backed chorus has this underlying sense of false hope. “I didn’t know that you were lonely, if you’d have just told me, I’d be running down”. The mix between pop and avant continues on the thrilling “sad day”, with production credits from left-field staples like Koreless as well as pop hitmakers Benny Blanco and Skrillex. Lyrically, FKA continues to try and cope with the fact that she is seeing other people and so is her ex. Nothing has changed in the world around her, but the “city cries with a howl to try to seduce” the both of them, although she is still hopeful that they will embrace each other yet again. She is mourning this relationship, while the other person seemingly has not a care in the world. Trying to come back together is like reaching through the void of space, and even then there are asteroids of doubt that block the connection.
Enter Future. If heartbreak had a physical pain element to it, he would be the percocet. He’s the quick fix, the rebound guy who brings you to your “favorite show”, introduces some trap hi-hats into your life and provides you with the affection you’ve been desperately missing. Regardless, twigs’ body is a temple and she has standards. If a man has heart, then she can enter the Holy Land, all fuckboys can get on the waiting list. Future is kind of the evil force in opposition to her checklist, a kind of anomaly that sneaks past the sensors, and for that reason I think he is a great inclusion. Up to this point, FKA twigs’ purpose as well as her performance level has been completely on the ball, and it doesn’t combo break with “mary magdalene”, the centerpiece of the album. The duality of virgin and whore, “Mary” and “Magdalene” is a spot on encapsulation of the paradoxical expectations of women, especially when it comes to sex and relationships. It is completely unfair and strips away all freedom of choice from that matter. If she doesn’t find someone she’s pathetic, if she has a lot of casual encounters, she’s a slut, if she marries someone new she’s pure. It’s really beautiful to see an artist just say, fuck all that, I’m my own person. In the song itself, she slows it down and takes the focus off her ex for a second, isolating herself in a chamber of vocal echoes to understand who she is as a woman. It doesn’t matter what the thousand eyes from the first track have to add, twigs is poking them all out one by one.
“Don’t tell me what you want!” she declares on the harrowing “fallen alien”. Her romantic life becomes this tragic sci-fi thriller, where she is this independent free spirit trapped in a world where she doesn’t belong. “In this age of Satan, I’m looking for a light to take me home and guide me out!” she continues, getting increasingly descriptive in her metaphorical language. She is taking no shit in this chapter, all the rage and rough texture from the verses of “home with you” begins to bleed into all parts of the track, juxtaposing pleasant activities like falling asleep next to someone with the opposite action of kicking them hard. This is where a lesser breakup record would completely fall apart at the seams and start dropping songs like “good 4 u” by Olivia Rodrigo. “Fuck you! Fuck you very very muuuuuch,” shit like that. Instead, twigs gets dejected and burned out on the final suite. “mirrored heart” presents such a sad revelation. She will think about this person all the time, try to fuck away the pain with other people, then just end up lying, empty, post-coius, thinking back on the old relationship. Have you ever had someone new lay on you while you look out the window and wonder where your ex is? Yeah me neither…
“daybed”, oof, “daybed” is fucking depressing. It’s sole producer Daniel Lopatin, aka Oneohtrix Point Never, gives her a weeping, This Mortal Coil-type beat so she can sing about not wanting to leave her bed. The aesthetic that this track projects is an unmade cot that is inanimate but decomposing, with dirty dishes, dead plants and flies all around an unwashed twigs. It is her sole source of comfort, yet it is killing her day-by-day. There is little to no hope, not even a bright caveat can shimmer through the blackout curtains. Then, we get one of the greatest songs ever made. Give it twenty years and it may be my favorite song of all time. Since its release, “cellophane” has been a tremendous source of comfort for me whenever I go through relationship issues. Despite how completely shattering it is, the feelings that it cements in stone are universally relatable but so oddly specific. “I try but I get overwhelmed, all wrapped in the cellophane, the feelings that we had,” she cries, “but didn’t I do it for you, why do I do it for you? Why don’t you do it for me? When all I do is for you”, then I cry. It just feels like being in a cramped space ship with someone you loved, and they are so sick of you that they blast off into the stars, leaving you completely in isolation. The way that twigs captures the unequal distribution of devotion to their love here just guts me every single time. It is a complete regression back to the desperation of the first tracks, showing that there is no such thing as “closure” and “climax” when you care for someone that much. On top of that, the final moments of “they’re waiting, they’re watching us, they’re hating, they’re hoping, I’m not enough” really ends Magdalene perfectly. Every happy couple has jealous lurkers and patient fuckboys (and fuckgirls for that matter) just sitting in the queue hoping that it all falls apart so they can start the feeding frenzy. They are fueled by the doubts and perils, and the fact that they usually end up getting what they want leaves twigs in a shrugged state. Magdalene is a perfect art pop record, it’s concise, well-produced, emotionally resonant, thematically complex, has an amazing cover and is led by one of the greatest living talents in FKA twigs.