Fiona Apple - When The Pawn Hits... 
Alternative Press   
Dec '99

Sophomore album shows a jazzy sophistication and , sadly, lyrical flaws. 

Fiona Apple already has two strikes against her: the ridiculously pretentious 90-word album title and the difficult task of trying to follow up the success of her debut. While the album title may end up being like that tattoo on your arm that seemed like such a good idea at the time, Fiona has nothing to worry about musically. When the Pawn Hits...  is a solid effort that expands beyond the angsty-woman-with-piano label slapped on Fiona after 1996's Tidal. Her lyrics do nothing to dispel that stereotype, but musically Apple proves to be wise beyond her years. 

While fellow piano diva Tori Amos currently dabbles in her old Led Zeppelin albums and pulsating beats, it seems Fiona prefers to soak up the experiences displayed by the wizened talent performing at her local jazz and blues clubs. And though the 2 woman share a drummer (Critters Buggin's Matt Chamberlain), his contributions to each's work are radically different. Subtle brushed beats and intricate rhythms drive Pawn's bluesy piano, a marked departure from Amos's arenas-ready big drum sound.

Indeed, the overall attitude of the album takes its cues from Tidal slow burners like "Sleep To Dream" and "Shadowboxer". The new disc's "To Your Love" and "Mistake" crackle with Apple's sultry alto and accompanying piano suited to a smokey cabaret nightclub. The instrumentation and execution on "On the Bound" and "Paper Bag" are reminiscent of slinkier, blet-it-out Broadway fare. And the lead single "Fast As You Can" throbs with a curious marriage of frantic techno beats with a slower jazzy middle. 

But while Apple's songs may reveal an old-soul maturity and complexity, her lyrics remain weak. Though commendable for their blunt honesty, her lyrics fall somewhere between Sylvia Plath and a heart-broken high school girl's poetry. For every piece of inspired Plathain poetry ("Love Ridden"), there are several clunkers (like the aptly named "Mistake"). 

Writing aside, Apple has managed to create a cohesive album rife with jazz sensibilities. Once her lyrical ability catches up to her musical prowess, there's no limit to how large this Apple can grow.  

(3 out 5 stars)

[Our note:  Surprising for AP not to appreciate Fiona's lyrical ability.  She's been highly esteemed by other critics in this area.  And we love Tori, but why continue with the Amos comparison.  AP, move on to appreciate each artist on their own!]

(thanks to Wendi for typing it)