Dear Fiona Apple,
Please don’t ever go away for so long again.
The world suffers from a dearth of female songwriters who don’t sell their perfect abs and style rather than their voice and lyrics. We’ve got far too many teeny-popstars and even Liz Phair gave up and had Avril Lavigne’s songwriters do her last album. Tori Amos hasn’t been the same since she got married, and even so she was just a wee bit too flowers-and-faeries for everyday.
But Fiona, your first album snuck under my skin when I was a teenager and thought I knew what heartbreak was all about, and it hit close to the bone recently, when I found more grown-up heartache. I picked up the second album a bit after its release, when I realized that I spent all of my time with Tom Waits and Nick Cave and I wanted a woman’s voice.
And you’ve got a woman’s voice–even did when you were just nineteen and still better-known for teen angst and that “Criminal” video, you sounded like a smoky torch singer, and I couldn’t believe that voice came out of that body. When I dream of having a voice to sing with, it’s yours.
This recent album, Extraordinary Machine, though, was worth the wait and the drama over internet leaks and record-label shelvings. Mike Elizondo and Jon Brion did a good job producing, but the star, as always, is your voice and your identity. You’re spurned but never weak, hurt but not broken, and your turns of phrase are original but not so esoteric that even the dumbest of exes can’t figure out what’s meant by a line like “But he’s no good at being uncomfortable, so/He can’t help staying exactly the same,” from the title track. And “Oh, you silly, stupid pastime of mine/You were always good for a rhyme,” well, who can’t relate to that?
The songs are quirkier–carnival beats and handclaps, adding a bit of Tom Waits-funk to the piano-confessionals (though you still kept those up, and I love “Parting Gift”) and in general, this album seems to have come from a more mature, centered person. I hope that’s the case, Fiona. You’ve got the requisite English-major, Shakespearian words (“folderol,” “paramour,” “stentorian”) but the breakup songs hint that this is less of a woman-scorned record than a woman-outgrowing-her-man record, and we could all use more of that, especially in a voice that drips like warm caramel through the speakers.
My favorite songs here are “Tymps (The Sick In The Head Song)” and “Red Red Red.” “Tymps” melts sarcasm like butter over computer handclaps and robotic beats, a note to all ex-boyfriends who think that just because we crawl in bed with them late at night, we’re still in love with them, and it’s even danceable, though it’d be a slow, sinuous solo dance, all hips and shoulders. And then “Red Red Red” is slow and atmospheric, torchy but sans piano, and contains my favorite lyrics:
I don’t understand about diamonds
and why men buy them
What’s so impressive about a diamond
except the mining?
But it’s dangerous work
Trying to get to you, too
And I think if I didn’t have to kill, kill, kill, kill
Kill myself doing it
Maybe I wouldn’t think so much of you.
The DualDisc version with the video is just an added plus. It’s refreshing to see you laughing, skin slightly tanned and muscle on those lean arms. The “Not About Love” video is funny (who’da thunk?) and the live tracks a lovely bonus.
The album art seems to belie the name–the very organic, almost sexual flowers and buds and of course the languorous shot of you on the back. But after all, it’s you who are (and we, your listeners, by association) the real extraordinary machine.
Thanks for being you,