FKA twigs: Caprisongs review – wild invention let down by weak songs

Darkness turns to light in Tahliah Barnett’s follow-up to 2019 LP Magdalene but, even so, it’s an adventurous but undercharged effort missing hooks and cohesion

FKA twigs recently took to Instagram to depict her mixtape Caprisongs as a soundtrack for preparing to go out: “It’s bronzer in the sink, alcopop on the side … a club pre-game … your bestie who is always late but brings the most to a party.”

This is not a description that would fit most of Tahliah Barnett’s oeuvre – to date she has dealt largely in darkness and heartache. But where 2019’s Magdalene came with a sleeve featuring twigs looking troubled, her face disturbingly distorted, on the cover of Caprisongs – the first thing she’s released since she accused her ex-boyfriend Shia LaBeouf of abuse (allegations he denies) – she’s clad in glittering jewellery, pulling down her bottom lip to reveal the acronym GOAT (greatest of all time) written on her teeth. Its contents follow suit.

FKA twigs on the cover of Caprisongs.
Oral text ... FKA twigs on the cover of Caprisongs. Photograph: Young/Atlantic

Twigs herself sounds different: the quivering RP voice she deployed during Magdalene is largely gone, although it makes a brief reappearance during Minds of Men. It’s replaced by something with roots in her adopted home of south London, a better fit for lyrics more obviously rooted in hip-hop and R&B than before, the delivery frequently influenced by the fast-paced triplet flows of rap. There’s a noticeable new buoyancy to the musical approach: “Falling in love all over again, but this time with music and myself”, as she put it on Instagram, in what reads like a response to the distress of her emotional life.

FKA twigs’ desire to present herself differently on Caprisongs goes far beyond the visuals and vocal tics. For all the soul-baring on Magdalene, which picked apart the collapse of her relationship with actor Robert Pattinson and the frequently racist and sexist frenzy it engendered on social media, there remained a certain unattainable quality about twigs herself, with her elaborate videos, the warping of her face on album sleeves and her live shows thick with demonstrations of her mastery of tap dancing and sword-based kung fu. Even when singing about heartbreak, she seemed an artist who cleaved to the notion that pop stars should be strange and unearthly, not straightforward reflections of their audience.

FKA twigs: Tears in the Club ft the Weeknd – video

Caprisongs, however, presents her in a more prosaic light: as your mate, not a mystery. Like Jazmine Sullivan’s 2021 critics’ favourite Heaux Tales, and indeed Adele’s 30, it features intimate voice-note recordings: of twigs bemoaning an ex’s behaviour and discussing her insecurities; of her astrologer, talking a load of wafty old cobblers; and of her friends and collaborators, some of whom attempt to buck twigs up (“I wish you could see in you what I can see in you”), and some of whom expound on their occasionally confusing personal philosophies. “I’m one of a kind – well, people like me are one of a kind,” offers rapper Pa Salieu.

The album represents an intriguing shift in a climate where pop stars who adopt personae then stick with them for decades, never breaking character: no Bowie-esque shape-shifting for Lana Del Rey or the Weeknd, who turns up here on Tears in the Club. But, in one sense at least, Caprisongs does resemble its predecessor. The music and production are wildly inventive, as always with twigs, although this time more clearly tethered to beats that take inspiration from trap, drum’n’bass and – on Papi Bones – dancehall. Sounds fly in and out of the mix, tracks frequently feel like one-way journeys, ending up in a completely different place from where they started. Brilliant ideas abound: the dramatic jump-cut changes of Honda’s backing; the wildly chopped-up harp samples on Darjeeling that sound like your internet connection is buffering; a sudden explosion of stacked harmonies and white noise midway through Ride the Dragon. If you’re going to use AutoTune, you might as well do it as imaginatively as she does on Pamplemousse, constantly zapping and shifting the pitch and texture of her vocals.

But, as with Magdalene, you’re often unavoidably aware that the songwriting at the centre of Caprisongs is underbaked. There are really good things here: Darjeeling brilliantly interpolates a snatch of Olive’s You’re Not Alone to underline the song’s depiction of London as a place so diverse that anyone can feel at home; Oh My Love has a pretty tune; you wonder if Tears in the Club’s popularity has less to do with its starry special guest than its really strong melody. But more often, Caprisongs settles for the fragmentary: scattered snatches of melodic ideas that might have been more fully developed, tunes that struggle to cut through the sonic tumult around them. Lightbeamers is as hard to grasp as smoke; the patchwork of bass line, chanting and fluttering vocals on Which Way feels as though it’s rambling, despite lasting barely two minutes.

There’s a lot that’s laudable about Caprisongs. Not least its desire to keep moving and changing – enough that complaining about something as straightforward as a paucity of memorable tunes almost feels miserly. But equally, it’s something that ultimately impedes your enjoyment of the album. As a soundtrack for the start of a night, it doesn’t quite pan out as you might hope.


Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

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