Fiona Apple's second album, When the Pawn..., comes out on Tuesday (Nov. 9), and from all indications she is in for no less a bumpy ride than the one that followed the release of her 1996 debut,
Tidal. She is still outspoken, she still cuts a startlingly lean figure, and then there is the album title itself -- 90 words of free-associated thoughts and prose that have already inspired an exceptionally creative and dynamic variety of ridicule.
Still, those incurable skeptics who secretly expect the 22-year-old singer-songwriter to fall flat on her face, shouldn't hold their breath. Apple remains unblinking and unaffected, if only because she has grounded herself with her confidence in the new record.
"I feel real secure about that whole sophomore thing," she deadpans. "I know this is album is much better than the first one."
Indeed, When The Pawn... represents a considerably more developed version of
Tidal. Producer Jon Brion adds meticulous ornaments to the disc, lacing the music with vintage synthesizers and dramatic sound effects, reflective of his work with Jellyfish. The themes of love and vulnerability remain, but now the songwriter sounds more confident, more precise with her sentiments.
On "Love Ridden," she sings to an old flame: "Only kisses on the cheek from now on/ And in a little while, we'll only have to wave." Her self-doubt surfaces on "Paper Bag," as she notes: "Hunger hurts, and I want him so bad, oh it kills/ Cuz I know I'm a mess he don't wanna clean up." But then the insurrection comes on first single "Fast As You Can": "Hungry for a fight, and I will not let you win."
"For me, there might be a theme to the album," Apple says.
"But I wouldn't be able to put it into words. There's a certain mood that represents where I am in my life and how I feel and how I express things."
Which makes the criticism that much more potent. Apple says she is still prone to getting teary when she reads a particularly spiteful article, like the recent review in
Jane magazine that parodied the album title and singer in one malicious blow.
"If somebody makes fun of you in print, it's basically the same thing as someone making fun of you at school," Apple says.
She feels her youth and candor have made her an easy target. "I don't think I'm paranoid,"
she says. "I think there is something about me that makes people in the media really want to fuck with me. I don't really know why. Where is all this energy coming from to knock me down?"
Some would say Apple set herself up: with her abrupt, acidic speech after winning MTV's best-new-artist award in 1997; with the video for her single "Criminal," in which she rolled around in her underwear alongside a roomful of beautiful people; and now for the unwieldy
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.
She sighs. She knows. But there is logic to it all. "It's funny because I started getting shit for the title when the title was there to remind me how to defend myself against shit," Apple says.
"But when you get a week away from it, you go, 'Well, I kind of asked for that.'"