1999 / Music

Review: Fiona Apple’s Latest Lacks Core

‘When The Pawn …’ Doesn’t Meet Its Potential

Photo: Sony Music

Photo: Sony Music

At the age of 19, Fiona Apple established herself as a stunning vocalist and a new light in the singer/songwriter mold with her 1996 debut album, “Tidal.”

With gems like “Shadowboxer,” “Criminal” and “Sleep to Dream,” her confessional songs were alternative hits. Her lyrics were potent because they were a mix of confidence and vulnerability.

Her first album was a record of subtleties. Though it was filled with some stunning vocal performances (it’s startling to hear such smoky and intense singing coming from someone so young and waifish looking), not to mention clever lyrical role-playing, it was the small things that made the album extraordinary: the piano’s resonating drone, the strange shivering sound throughout “Sleep To Dream” or the snake charmer’s flute at the tail end of “Criminal.”

It was sort of enjoyable in much the same way that Mazzy Star is: All the songs are in the same territory, but there’s no one that sounds quite like them.

On Apple’s new album, “When the Pawn …,” something is missing. Where Dr. Dre seems confused and worried about where to go from here, Apple seems intent on doodling until something comes of it. (More on Dr. Dre’s latest efforts)

The album’s title actually is (you can never see this whole thing in a newspaper): “When The Pawn Hits
The Conflicts He Thinks Like A King What He Knows Throws The Blows When He Goes To The Fight And He’ll Win The Whole Thing ‘Fore He Enters The Ring There’s No Body To Batter When Your Mind Is Your Might So When You Go Solo, You Hold Your Own Hand And Remember That Depth Is The Greatest Of Heights And If You Know Where You Stand, Then You Know Where To Land And If You Fall It Won’t Matter, Cuz You’ll Know That You’re Right.”

The album is not unendearing or boring, but it lacks the focus and sense of restrained passion that made “Tidal” so great.

Her voice is still the centerpiece, with pianos and orchestrations no louder than a hum spinning around it, and her lyrics are still (seemingly) autobiographical. And although her singing is still great, the songs that last for more than five minutes begin to wear you out.

That said, it does have its moments: the sound of a bloated, robotic carnival marching throughout “On The Bound,” the spacey-trance feel of “A Mistake” or the assuredness yet playful tone in Apple’s voice in “The Way Things Are.”

“Fast As You Can” is an intense and frenetic song with sweeping mood changes, but it really lacks any noticeable melody. Though it is musically interesting, no one will be humming it at the bus stop or the grocery store.

And that’s what made her first effort so memorable. You couldn’t get those songs out of your head. What person wasn’t a bit alarmed when they heard their significant other singing those lines from “Criminal” to themselves?

More Information:

Also From The Score …

Note: David’s nationally syndicated music column, Soundbytes, appeared in the Entertainment section of all Internet Broadcasting websites. This column was originally published there.

©Copyright 1999 by David Hyland. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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