Tahliah Barnett's been to tabloid hell and back and experienced gruelling ill-health, all of which is explored on her huge, panoramic second album
“I never thought heartbreak could be so all-encompassing,” wrote FKA twigs in the statement that accompanies her second album ‘Magdalene’. “I never thought that my body could stop working to the point that I couldn’t express myself physically in the ways that I have always loved and found so much solace in,” she said. At the tail end of 2017, though, this is where Tahliah Barnett found herself.
Recovering from surgery (Barnett had six benign tumours removed from her uterus two years ago), she was also going through the emotional wringer after a painful break-up. The taxing physicality that has always been at the core of twigs’ art was out of reach, at least while she healed. Suddenly her body felt limiting.
While debut album ‘LP1’ was futuristic and warped – a record landed on earth from another galaxy – its successor towers above everything she’s released previously. Sonically, it’s impressive and huge like an echoing grand hall, though Barnett wields her voice like a stealthily weapon. Aching pain seeps from every note.
Much of that pain comes from being torn away from another person. Occasionally, ‘Magdalene’ alludes to Barnett’s becoming gossip column fodder thanks to her previous relationship with Robert Pattinson. On ‘Thousand Eyes’ she feels the potential gaze of hundreds who are ready to stir at the first sign of scandal, the world present in her most personal moments. On ‘Cellophane’, these same eyes become a destructive enemy. “I don’t want to have to share our love,” she protests.
FKA twigs frequently explores what it means to be an individual person again – no ‘other half’ in sight. ‘Mirrored Heart’ vibrates with Twin Peaks-style synths, veering between eerie sparseness and half-familiar melodies from classic love songs. It’s addressed to the smug couple canoodling across the bar. “They just remind me I’m without you,” she sighs.
In all senses, Barnett’s voice is far clearer than it has been before. Technically speaking, she’s on searing form – her howls hit with the bracing bite of being trapped in a wind tunnel. “Why won’t you do it for me? When all I do is for you?” she pleads on ‘Cellophane’, whispering and ferocious all at once. And her observations often have a certain black humour at their core. ‘Day Bed’ is possibly the most moving song that has ever been penned about masturbating and crying at the same time: “Active are my fingers, faux my cunnilingus,” she sings. It’s a sad-wank anthem, if you will.
For ‘Magdalene’, FKA twigs collaborated with a staggering list of artists and producers: Nicolas Jaar, Future, Benny Blanco, Koreless, Jack Antonoff, Oneohtrix Point Never and Skrillex are among those that contributed to her vision. And what an ambitious vision this is. To its core ‘MAGDALENE’ is an album about rebuilding after collapse. It opens with a quiet choral refrain (“If I walk out the door, it starts our last goodbye”) and a transformation gradually takes place. By its close, FKA twigs is an unstoppable force of nature.
Release date: November 8
Record label: Young Turks