(not Sony Records to be sure)
If you had told me at some point in writing this column that I would feel compelled to review a Fiona Apple album, I woulda directed you back to the Fountain of Misinformation from which you drank that foolish water. But here we are.
As most of you have heard by now, Fiona is the new anti-Metallica, where instead of being decimated to pennilessness by college sophomores with cable modems, she is the Rapunzel, locked up in Sony's tower for two years with a completed album that they would neither release, for fear of dead sales, nor would they give to her to offer up for other suitors. Was Sony afraid that it would become another Yankee Hotel Foxtrot debacle, where the guardians of culture were forced to eat their hat and re-buy suspected cut-out bin fodder that would then become that artist's first chart topping record? Surely Sony money people eat at fine enough places that they wouldn't even taste any crow.
Fortunately, the internet has again showed me why it's the best invention ever, in that it allowed the People to rise up and demand this record be freed and used the guerrilla tactics of posting the songs (just go to this thing called Google and you will readily find them. If you are wondering how I heard it, someone anonamously slipped me a CDR of the album, which I promptly destroyed after listening to only 10% of the songs for review purposes only. And then took the trash to the dumpster. And then the grabage truck showed up right then and said they were taking it to a landfill in Canada, so you can't even find it anywhere anyway even if you wanted to.) I suddenly just got a fear that this is actually some creepola reverse viral marketing thing on the record company's behalf, but really, if it is, don't tell me. I prefer the patina of revolution even if it is just a puppet show.
Ms. Apple is in fine form with her wise-beyond-her-years voice. I mean, she must be, what, 19 by now? Why last time I saw her was when she was making me feel funny in that Calvin-Klein-ad sexy video. She's bolstered her balladry with copious piano and string arrangements, really coming to flower on the torchy "Oh Sailor." The sophistication on this record reminds me of somewhere between a 70's Carol Kane epic and a pre-weirdified Bjork musical number. It get a little Tom Waits-rackety on the jaunty "Better Version of Me," one of the better pieces on the album, and the sparsely populated "Window" (at least until that piano shows up again). The Billy Joel subtlety of her playing drowns out much the album for me, but it is still a very well-crafted engaging record that sits well with the equally maudlin but nonetheless touching new Tori Amos album. "Waltz" brings all the bombast of this record into a one big delicious slice of drag-review-ready Pop music. Also, I am struck that it reminds me of some of the great early Lou Reed albums like Transformer or even sections of the death shrouded Berlin, in that it uses the model of Gershwin schmaltz to carry the songs. If only the final track "Please Please Please" had been the Smith's cover I was hoping it would be, but alas, no.
The title track shows her to be a singer of a remarkable range, and hopefully this new Princess of the People will find her new fans. Meanwhile, c'mon, Sony, cut a girl a break. I mean, Interscope put out that Queen Latifah jazz standards album and even put her on SNL to promote it, showing you could make a bigger mistake than releasing this album. Free Fiona! Give the crazy girls I used to date a new album to play all the damn time! Let the People's voice be heard!
Here is a fan site with the skinny: http://www.fionaapple.org
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com