Apple proves she's still a master of her craft
Fiona Apple
When The Pawn Hits the Conflicts...
(Clean Slate/Epic) 
Birmingham News   
Nov 12 '99

by Kevin O'Hare

Amid the clang and clatter of modern rock, hip-hop, metal and their various combinations, some young writers still find strength in the power of the song. 

Fiona Apple is one of them. 

She was only 19 when her debut disc, Tidal, turned her into a star in 1996, and this follow-up builds upon the momentum of that set. 

What's gotten most of the initial attention is the album's title, which is abbreviated big time here. The real deal is 90 words long, a rambling poetic burst that surely sets some record for unbridled verbosity. 

Fortunately, the music is far more direct. 

With a passionate delivery that blends late-night jazz, pop and rock on the edge, Apple (who performed in Birmingham in 1997 to a sell-out crowd at Five Points South Music Hall) offers a convincing approach to her craft. 

Opening with the earthy "On the Bound," the singer/ songwriter and pianist plays with the phrasing, twisting and turning lines, questioning her own future while lamenting lost faith. 

While Apple's melodies rarely sparkle or shimmer, the depth of her writing and the production of multi-instrumentalist John Brion prove thoroughly engaging. 

Sometimes growling, sometimes going into her upper octave and sometimes mixing them both in a cut such as "To Your Love," Apple plays off her rhythm section far more than most songwriters. That approach is particularly effective on the lead single "Fast as You Can," which features drummer Matt Chamberlain providing the perfect counterpoint to the singer. 

He's also a prominent player in the album's most memorable track, "Limp." The song starts quietly and builds against a tight backbeat, percussion and woodwinds. Apple delivers a soul-stirring vocal, snarling venomous lines such as "And when I think of it, my fingers turn to fists." 

That anger does run a bit thin after a while, and Apple could benefit by matching her keen sense of musical variations with some occasional emotional dynamics. But her ability to be both a sharp-shooting rocker and a compelling jazz chanteuse - check out the luscious vocal in "I Know" - is one of the major reasons she is a voice worth listening to very closely in the coming years.