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Fiona Apple successfuly reemerges after hiatus

Molly Griffin | Thursday, October 13, 2005

Most artists who went six years between albums, particularly a young, female singer, would be forgotten by audiences and dropped by their record labels.

Somehow Fiona Apple, whether through her early promise as an artist or sheer tenacity, manages to emerge after a six-year hiatus, trouble with her record label and several producer changes with a great new album that builds on the career she established in the ’90s and reveals the depth that age and time has given to her talent.

Apple was part of the strong group of female singer/songwriters who emerged in the early ’90s, and her emotional frankness made her popular with critics and audiences alike. While embraced by the mainstream, she was also painted as unstable and overly emotional.

The story behind the production of “Extraordinary Machine” is, well, nothing short of extraordinary. Apple began the album with producer Jon Brion, who had worked on her 1996 debut, “Tidal,” and her 1999 follow-up, “When the Pawn…” Much of the material on “Extraordinary Machine” stems from Apple’s breakup with director Paul Thomas Anderson (“Boogie Nights,” “Magnolia.”)

She was unhappy with the result, as was her label, Sony, so the album was put on hold. Apple reached out to hip-hop producer Mike Elizondo, who worked with acts like 50 Cent, but Sony balked at refinancing the album, which it thought didn’t have enough commercial appeal.

The album stalled, and Apple retreated to Venice, but the Brion version of the album was leaked on the Internet on freefiona.com. The buzz that it generated was strong enough to get the new album back on track, culminated with its release on Oct. 4.

The album’s eponymous track, “Extraordinary Machine,” one of two Brion-produced versions that were kept, is one of the album’s strongest. It combines a lilting rhythm and an unusual percussive beat with great vocal timing from Apple.

The jazzy, piano-heavy and lyrically inspired “Better Version of Me,” emerges as another strong track that seems reminiscent of past Apple songs like “Limp” and “Sleep to Dream.”

“Window” begins with a soft beat, but it swiftly swings into a deeper, angrier territory for the chorus in which Apple proclaims, “I had to break the window / it just had to be / better that I break the window / than him or her or me.”

The song “Tymps (The Sick in the Head Song),” while using xylophones, actually reveals the hip-hop influence Elizondo brings to the album and has a catchier beat than many Apple songs.

The album reveals how Apple, both vocally and in her songwriting abilities, has evolved as an artist. The songs still have their trademark honesty and frank emotions, but the adolescent rage has been replaced with deeper insights.

The songs still deal primarily with relationships, but Apple seems to have found deeper personal insights, as songs like “Extraordinary Machine” reveal.

Overall, the album reveals that Apple is still the same artist who put out “Tidal” and “When the Pawn…” but that she has grown up and her music has grown with her. Her choice of producers was a wise one, since the album is musically cohesive but still manages to have stand-out singles that can easily be played on the radio.

The album balances her emotional honesty with innovative, interesting arrangements that highlight her powerful voice and insightful lyrics.