Magdalene (Young Turks/Remote Control)
I am a sucker for someone who says “screw your courage to the sticking post and we will not fail”. Because the truth is - I reckon anyway - while you may not completely succeed each time, you never completely fail because something new will have happened one way or another.
An album which begins from a base of a relationship breakup and (unrelated) intense medical circumstances, and opens out to an examination of the way women are marginalised or diminished – and how they break free from it.
An album which incorporates polyphony and hip hop, art music and contemporary classical, breathy R&B and sometimes vigorously punchy electronica. And does it in songs which may stretch the form but always feel within the realms of a kind of pop music.
An album where her voice can alight on the most delicate and then the most guttural turns, and stir you each time. Where the layers of sound – vocal, instrumental, tonal – shift before your ears sometimes like intersecting sine waves on a magi-screen.
Well, that’s an album where boldness and adventure are tools, not just words.
Fallen Angel can twist like a Bowie amalgam of Tin Machine and Lodger as played by Aphex Twin and Kate Bush – brutal undercurrents and spitting overlays; angular synths and manic children’s choir - all while spearing through lines such as “Now you hold me close so tender/When you fall asleep I’ll kick you down/By the way you fell I know you/Now you’re on your knees”.
That is immediately contrasted by Mirrored Heart, which is veneer of conventionality (trembling voice, modern soul melody, measured piano chords) about the ripples of a love,“Did you really see me/No, not this time/Were you ever sure? No, no no not with me”, that sails through a Bjork-like crunch of electronics, slab drums and thickening emotional intensity about three and a half minutes in.
It returns to that veneer of calm, before easing away seemingly unchanged, but actually subtly altered into a reflection of hurt. That is, hurt at an angle as she sings again “And for the lovers who found a mirrored heart/They just remind me I’m without you”.
Which is in some ways the emotional crux of Magdalene, a realisation by the end that there has been no varnishing of the hurt; that the pain here is almost physical; that like Bjork’s similarly wholly exposed post-breakup album, Vulnicura, each moment of pain is in some ways also a salve for the mere expression of it.
But also, and this is as crucial, the other element of that salve is that there is forgiveness. Of herself, sure, but also of him. Not because it’s her duty to, not even because she needs to for herself - though that may well be central to her healing - but because her reading of the situation has shaded even the hardest blows.
That’s why the gentle Sad Day contains within it a busy scattering of electronic drum patterns under the delicate melody and backgrounded synths. And how Future’s verses in Holy Terrain begin as swagger to disguise a fractured spirit but end in a vulnerable hope that “if you pray for me, I know you play for keeps”, to which she responds “For a man who can follow his heart/Not get bound by his boys and his chains” this is possible.
Within these separate journeys across the album the ground beneath is laid out in Mary Magdalene, which is something of a conversation between a woman who is a figure of respect and deeper knowledge that any of the accompanying “boys and [their] chains, and the man/spirit who depends on her for those very qualities.
Here, a “woman’s war/Unoccupied history” is rescued from millennia of diminution and insult, just as the album rescues a more specific experience from being dismissed as just an after-effect. Which is a pretty gutsy, courageous, basis for a record.
She did not fail. This is a great success.