When the Pawn. . .

Fiona Apple

album cover

A Ninety-Word Title, and It Doesn't Begin to Sum This Up. . .

Something profound happened to Fiona Apple between her debut and the making of this, her second record. When she first appeared, on the smoldering 1996 million-seller entitled Tidal, the New York singer, songwriter, and pianist seemed a competent if undistinguished student of Nina Simone and less original torch singers. Three years later, at the age of twenty-two, Apple delivered one of the great rococo leaps of the rock era, this series of dialogs with diffident, recalcitrant, or otherwise insensitive lovers set to flamboyant, tightly wound music.

Theories abound about the possible causes of the transformation. Apple herself explained at the time that she was just curious about songs and structures. "I didn't want to be trapped by a style. . . . The whole idea about music is to develop your own instincts, which is hard when the culture is telling you to sound a certain way and think a certain way." At least partial credit goes to Jon Brion, who produced When the Pawn. . . . He surrounds Apple's impetuous poutage with oompah beats and carnival horns, stomping-feet Broadway bluster, and bits of funk. Brion created some funhouse orchestrations that are the musical equivalent of the sad clown's painted smile. They cast Apple's personal torments in upbeat, surprisingly accessible settings.

Brion's schemes also offer Apple a wide range. She mewls over one verse and belts the next, and on several tracks, including the galumphing "On the Bound," her eruptions come out of nowhere, as though triggered by a stray bitter memory. These outbursts fit the profile Apple creates with her lyrics: She's unstable, difficult, maybe even damaged goods. On "To Your Love," she apologizes, "Please forgive me for my distance, pain is evident in my existence." A few songs later, she tells some poor man to run away "Fast as You Can," before he gets himself in deeper. There's something irresistible about that, a woman with the quintessential come-hither voice warning potential suitors to run, lest they fall.

Genre: Rock
Released: 1999, Epic
Key Tracks: "Fast as You Can," "On the Bound," "To Your Love"
F.Y.I.: When the Pawn is the shorthand name of this album; the ninety-word title begins: When the Pawn Hits the Conflicts He Thinks like a King What He Knows Throws the Blows and goes on from there.
Catalog Choice: Tidal
Next Stop: Alanis Morissette: Jagged Little Pill
After That: Nellie McKay: Get Away from Me
Book Pages: 23–24

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#1 from Thomas, Chicago - 05/19/2009 8:52

Yes!  Amazing album!

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