On her long-awaited sophomore album, “MAGDALENE,” Twigs is desperate, born out of a desire to serve and be wanted. It’s an important step in breaking down the perception of herself as an avatar for pure power, someone who is so intensely in control of her art, her body and her life.
“MAGDALENE” pulls back the curtain on Twigs, or at least as much of her as she wants us to see. It’s hard to overstate just how pretty of an album “MAGDALENE” is. There are popping string arrangements, samples of church choirs and great big heaving breaths. Alongside a handful of outside producers, among them Nicolas Jaar and Arca, Twigs constructed sound designs worthy of Renaissance architecture.
She spends a lot of time on “MAGDALENE” examining what it means to share a life with someone and then not. Not too many people can relate to dating two world-famous celebrities, but most people understand the feeling that you’ll never find love again. On “mirrored heart,” she looks at all those around her who have found their other halves.
“And for the lovers who found a mirrored heart/ They just remind me I’m without you,” she sings, her voice cracking as she asks and answers her own devastating questions: “Did you want me all?/ No, not for life/ Did you truly see me?/ No, not this time.”
Sexuality has become something more interior for Twigs on “MAGDALENE.” Before, she used it as a weapon. Now it is a respite to keep herself feeling safe. She treats femininity with a religious reverence — an orgasm is turned into hymnal coos on “daybed,” masturbation used as a method to block out the stressors of the outside world: “Active are my fingers/ Faux my cunnilingus/ Dirty are my dishes/ Many are my wishes.”
The problems that Twigs sorts through in “MAGDALENE” are not necessarily average. In 2018, she opened up about her health complications: the six fibroid tumors that she had removed from her body, which on the album she likens to “apples, cherries, pain.” What she’s been less open about, though, is the last few years that she’s spent as tabloid fodder, a weird side hustle for an artist that has always presented herself as deeply interior.
Her high-profile relationships with Robert Pattinson and Shia LaBeouf have evidently had an effect on her, and not for the better. On album opener “thousand eyes,” she feels the public pressure to succeed in these attachments. “If you don’t pull me back, it wakes a thousand eyes,” she sings. On “cellophane,” she pleads: “They wanna see us, wanna see us alone/ They wanna see us, wanna see us apart.” The paparazzi are outside her door, cameras waiting to catch a glimpse of unhappiness or dissatisfaction and waiting for her to fail, as if the failure of a relationship is the damnation of her own self-worth.
Twigs finds a kindred spirit in Mary Magdalene, a follower of Jesus Christ believed by some to be his lover. Twigs identifies with Magdalene, a woman who is only thought about through her relationship with a man. But she also finds comfort in that sort of self-sacrifice; she gives Magdalene agency of her own. “I can lift you higher/ I do it like Mary Magdalene,” she sings on the title track. “I’m what you desire/ Come just a little bit closer till we collide.” On “home with you,” she ecstatically gives herself up to the role of provider, to being the one to wait and serve. “I didn’t know that you were lonely/ If you’d have just told me, I’d be home with you,” she sings, the sound of her twinkling heels running down the hallway like a scene from your favorite A24 film.
“MAGDALENE” is an effortless braiding of high-brow electronic art-pop, carnal soul music, and lurid modern dance. Twigs goes the extra mile in her work as a singer, producer, and performer, mixing and matching mediums to meet her tastes. The album’s downcast closer, “cellophane,” is like reading her diary. You see the most intimate aspects of her inner thoughts and it leaves you feeling invasive and very sorry for the singer. It’s inventive, sparse and effective production coupled with her gorgeous and heartbreaking vocal performance make “cellophane” one of the year's best singles.
Matthew Stone designed the album cover, which is a hideously gorgeous Frankenstein-like cast of Barnett’s face. The proportions are all wrong, Twigs’ eyes are filled in with pastels and there is paint dripping down her shoulders. She’s presented as a canvas in progress, photographed somewhere on the journey to becoming, and that’s exactly what “MAGDALENE” is: a rapturous in-between, from being wanted to being found.