Assured Apple Challenges Her Audience
LA Times   
Nov 9, '99

by Elisa Gardner

FIONA APPLE
Clean Slate/Epic
"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."  

Given the startling precocity of Apple's 1996 debut, "Tidal"--recorded when she was only 18--fans have surely been expecting a bravura second act. On her sophomore effort (in stores today), the singer-songwriter, now 22, delivers not by aspiring to match or exceed the surprise commercial success of her first album but by following her singular and ever-maturing instincts.

Though Apple's new songs express as much emotional ambivalence as those on "Tidal" did, there is more of a self-assured, even playful, quality to her delivery. Working with producer Jon Brion, whose seductively quirky sensibilities suit her to a T, she continues to nurture a flair for taut, sophisticated arrangements. But she conveys a new sense of ease and control, whether riding the frantic, shifting rhythms of the single "Fast as You Can" or sliding her sultry alto into the deceptively delicate "Paper Bag."

Apple's wily but almost painfully candid lyrics also impress. The stark ballad "Love Ridden" is tenderly shattering, and on "To Your Love" the singer displays a cool, sly wit even as she works herself into a feral lather worthy of PJ Harvey.
These knowing, challenging songs won't appeal to every pop fan who watched Apple become an MTV idol. But by staying true to her heart and her art, this former teen prodigy promises to remain relevant well into her dawning adulthood. 

3 1/2 stars out of 4