Have you ever yearned for the past so badly your blood boiled and your skin tensed? So badly, you became maniacal in your laughter? So, so badly, your remembrances became torture devices—every memory a slice through weathered skin? That is the story of FKA twigs’ newest album, MAGDALENE.
The experimental R&B-pop singer has evolved in the five years since her last album, 2014’s LP1, to bring us into the vile depths of… Not exactly straight heartbreak and not exactly pining. She takes us somewhere crunching and demented, where memories don’t go to die, they go to regain their life and haunt us. Every moment ever shared with a loved one who left us, every sweet touch evaporated, every thing exchanged and lost to the ether takes root on MAGDALENE.
twigs, 31, soars on “home with you,” as she pledges to run to her lover. Over the hill and through the woods, twigs pledges herself to a love unkind to her. It’s evident in the operatic and dramatic song structures, and production indebted to the sounds of Nicolas Jaar and SOPHIE. It’s evident in the transition into “sad day,” which, as a title, signals all it ever could. twigs fancies herself a mystic on MAGDALENE, fancies herself as worthy. And yet, the lovers that be, see her as an object. “Would you make a wish on my love?” she sings on “sad day,” as if she were nothing more than hot rock flying through the night sky to dazzle us. FKA twigs exists for her lover, or she doesn’t. She is a dream, or she isn’t anything at all.
And this is the torture of yearning—when you flay yourself open for your lover and allow them to turn you into whatever contents their heart. You remember that incisive decision for all time. You remember how you bled for the good times. You remember how you wept a sea for the good times to float across. Oh, but those times were so good. What are tears in the face of a chance to return to goodness? Nothing. Tears suddenly mean nothing on MAGDALENE, which encourages us to “make love to all you see,” as if we can rejoin the past. On the album, twigs is calling out every tender fleck of the past, hoping to fashion them into a touchable present. FKA twigs just wants to be touched.
“I lie naked and pure with intentions to cleanse you and take you” twigs sings, her voice whipping against our hearts because her lover is absent. There’s something so heartbreaking about the way twigs’ body is the holy center of MAGDALENE. Enrapt in yearning for appreciation, for the past, for everything shared and gone, twigs still owns herself so openly. A battle brews on MAGDALENE. How can twigs define herself and also be so scared of life without love she has to ask: “Do you still think I’m beautiful?” on “holy terrain?” How can we stand so tall, make music so grand, but have yearning make us so feeble?
As twigs sings, we feel it in our bones—this shapeless and all-consuming passion for an otherwise poisonous thing. Think about the first time you happen upon an ex-lover months after you’ve parted ways. Think about the heat rising to your head, the way your vision blurred. Think about the flood of memories. Imagine you come across a photo of them now, and you realize they’ve lived their life without you. The sting of being left behind, curiosity about who they’ve become in your absence; all of this fuels twigs’ MAGDALENE centerpiece, “mirrored heart.”
“It’s all for the lovers trying to chase the rush again,” twigs admits on the open of “mirrored heart.” And what a fruitless chase it is. At first, we remember each other fondly. Those first touches are electric in practice and spirit. The rekindling feels overwhelming. There’s a relief to the first kisses, the first fuck. A union, a reunion, and a parting gift all in one. Because the chase is nothing more than a chase. There is no promise here. There is no infinity.
But fuck, fuck, does it hurt to admit defeat. God, does it hurt to admit you’re trying to grasp chemtrails in the sky, fading in and out of reach. “mirrored heart” makes me want to puke, how true it is. This song breaks me down. How real the need to run back to your past when the present is nothing if not uncertain. The carefully plodding production is so tempered and taxing. It’s all for the lovers trying to flee their pain. “Trying to fuck away the pain” of the stark reality. We are in a loveless place now. Only our memories can keep us warm—warm like battery acid.
“mirrored heart” captures the torture of yearning. twigs does not hold back, bellowing: “I’m probably gonna think about you all the time” in as close to a growl as she can muster. “I’m without you,” she continues, one with the ruin. And we know this feeling all too well. We know because our past lovers show up in our dreams and turn them nightmares. We know because we see our past lovers in everything otherwise benign and unremarkable. Because we remember the way that they dragged their fingertips across our jawline before that last, forlorn kiss. Broken is the heart, and radioactive is the mind.
twigs ends “mirrored heart” with a series of shattering questions. “Did you want me all? / No, not for life / Did you truly see me? / No, not this time / Were you ever sure?/ No no no, not with me” she spews into the cacophony. The din of her broken heart gives way to a swell and tender sign-off. “I’m without you” go the final words into the static. This is how it feels to reach out for someone who is no longer there. To explore the cold of winter, circle your empty palm while couples pass hand-in-hand. And we want it back so bad. We want our peace back, but it’s never coming. No, no one has discovered how to access the past for all-time.
“Aching is my laughter,” FKA twigs concludes on the pensive “daybed.” Whispers of her ghostly vocal smoke the room. We listen to MAGDALENE, and we remember everyone we have ever loved, and how easily they stopped loving us. The heartbreak is so precise. “Rest becomes my nowhere,” twigs tenses. There is no peace left for us. The apartment is in shambles. Dishes, fruit flies, no love to speak of. No will. We will rot in this place to which twigs has brought us, and we’re okay with that. All we want is to find that love again. If not with whom we remember, perhaps, with someone we’ve yet to see. Maybe we can wrap that love in “cellophane.” Perhaps it exists. But for now, our yearning hounds us.
On MAGDALENE, FKA twigs just wants to be touched with security and intention. Beneath her layers of art pop and glory, she’s just small and hoping for something more. Her heart is hoping, is yearning for more. Ours, too.