Fiona Apple
When The Pawn ...
(Clean Slate/Epic) 
Nov 10 '99
by Sara Ziegler

No matter what she does, this sultry songstress just can't seem to get anyone to pay attention to her music. 

With her 1996 release, "Tidal," the music industry was more concerned with Apple's "Criminal" underwear and her lash at the industry in a MTV Award acceptance speech than it was with the fascinating music. 

And now with Apple's latest effort, they're paying more attention to the record's 90-word poem that serves as its title. It's too bad because while Apple's videos and poetry might be good, her music is much better. 

As an accomplished pianist, moody vocalist and inspired lyricist, Apple is as fiercely talented as they come. She brings all of her facets together on her sophomore effort, demonstrating a higher degree of maturity and polish throughout the album than was displayed at times on "Tidal." 

The lyrics on "When the Pawn ..." show marked improvement from Apple's previous work. They're more honest, filled with less pretense and display a wider range of emotion. 

Apple mixes it up in her writing, displaying variety in her subjects and approaches. She handles standard love-song fare of rejection and desire, but she does so differently than most female songwriters. 

On "Paper Bag," Apple poignantly acknowledges that someone just won't love her: "Hunger hurts, and I want him so bad, oh it kills/ Cuz I know I'm a mess he don't wanna clean up/ I got to fold cuz these hands are too shaky to hold." 

And on "Limp," she sends a chilling message to a man who raped her when she was only 12 years old. [hmm this writer's interpretation of this song, not stated by Fiona] "And when I think of it, my fingers turn to fists/ I never did anything to you, man ... So call me crazy, hold me down/ Make me cry; get off now, baby/ It won't be long till you'll be lying limp in your own hand." 

Apple's craftsmanship has definitely grown, but it's still her torch-song voice that's most impressive. 

Her husky alto can alternately croon or scat on only a moment's notice. 

Apple uses her voice as an instrument, imitating the great jazz singers of previous generations. 

She deftly bounces through syncopated beats in "Fast As You Can" and then turns around and belts out soulful ballads like "I Know," making it nearly impossible to get tired of this record. 

Now if only people would get over the album title. 

4 1/2 STARS