Fiona Apple,
Extraordinary Machine
(Sony, 2005)

I associate Fiona Apple with misery. I can't help it, I discovered her during a miserable time in my life. And maybe she's cheerful in other aspects of her life, but it has to be acknowledged that she's had some ugly lovin' along the way.

So it surprised me that I don't know quite how to approach this album. Things don't seem to have improved for Fiona, but they have, a hundred thousand percent, for me. The boys are still being bad to her, but I've got a boy who's oh so good to me.

I guess she's like that friend, the one who just won't leave the boyfriend, no matter how awful he gets. I mean, the stories are still interesting, and she's a hell of a teller, but it's the same, always the same.

"Everything good I deem too good to be true," she says in "Oh Sailor" (a track that bugs me just for the lack of explanation. Who is the sailor? Why is that the descriptive factor she uses for him, if she isn't going to tell us? A silly peeve, I know, but distracting every time I hear it). But still she feels this way? Why? Why can't she be enough to her own self to make that stop being true? It's just a song, I know. And yet, having passed though that pain, I want to bring her along.

Her voice is ethereal, operatic and sultry, yes, all together. It's aurally pleasing to hear her play with her voice like vocal gymnastics.

But always, the best thing is the lyrics. She find the words to make a perfect poetry of pain, and they're just right, every time precise and cutting.

"I'm either so sick in the head I need to be bled dry to quit / Or I just really used to love him / I sure hope that's it." Bled dry? So dramatic! She's such a fantastic smartass as well, though, that she's saved from being merely a moody melodramatist. I'm glad she writes the lyrics just for the pleasure of having those words, in that creative order, out there on the soundwaves.

From "Parting Gift," "I opened my eyes / While you were kissing me once more than once / And you looked as sincere as a dog / Just as sincere as a dog does, / When it's the food on your lips with which it's in love." My god, I never thought of it before, but I know that look, yes I do. I think probably we all do, and once it's put that way, it's hard to ignore.

And bonus points on the use of "folderol" in "A Better Version of Me"

The music is complementary and that, I think, sets this album apart from her previous ones, which felt more developed with layers of sound. The emotion sounds are shifted into the verbal plain on this one. She is a pianist, and she complements that instrument with guitar, drums, bells, horns -- it seems like everything and the kitchen sink, if it'd give her the sound she's seeking.

Part of my indecision about this album is that on a personal level, I hate to see someone (especially someone I like, who offers so much vulnerability openly) suffer for so long. But then, what if she gets happy? What will be the hook?

by Katie Knapp
28 October 2006

[ visit the artist's website ]

Buy it from