Fiona Apple -- growing up
Dec 2 '99
by David John Farinella

Fiona Apple
"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"
Clean Slate/Sony/Epic Records

(CNN) -- When Fiona Apple's debut offering "Tidal" hit the shelves in 1996, the singer, then 19, lit a fire under pop music. She spent most of 1997 stoking the embers -- live shows, brutally honest press interviews and one off-handed award acceptance speech. All she does with the release of "When the Pawn..." is pour a tanker truckload of petroleum on the flames.

In short, there's nothing on "When the Pawn ..." that puts a shadow on Apple's shining star. Her immense talent, both on the vocal and lyrical fronts, bursts through in nearly all 10 of the album's songs.

Much like its predecessor, "When the Pawn ..." is a poignant look into the soul of a woman who's coming to grips with life. Of course, there are what appear to be glances into Apple's love life. "To Your Love" details struggles with intimacy ("Please forgive me for my distance / The pain is evident in my existence"). And in "Fast as You Can" we get a glimpse of what sounds like a lack of self-esteem ("Fast as you can, baby scratch me out, free yourself").

This album isn't the emotional drain it might seem, mainly because it sounds as if Apple has reached some acceptance of life's dark spots. Her ability to turn a phrase and sing a lyric with equal parts innocence and rage is compelling. "Limp," perhaps one of the album's best tracks, displays her capacity for crushing honesty in her approach.

The song is also a prime example of producer Jon Brion's musical wisdom. Brion, one of the industry's supermusicians, plays every instrument on the album except drums, piano and strings. His aural thesaurus includes luscious string arrangements on "Love Ridden" and funky syncopation in "Paper Bag." 

No matter the style, Brion takes great pains to bring Apple's ideas to stunning fruition. As an example, take "Limp," in which Apple's subtle rage is set against Brion's electronic percolation. Brion adds just the right amount of atmosphere to her piano tracks.

Other album highlights include the mid-tempo "Paper Bag," "A Mistake" and the gospel-confessional nature of "I Know."

The list of artists who have wilted under the pressure of a second release is long. "When the Pawn ..." not only takes Apple off that list, but also puts her on the list of artists to watch in 2000. Given her evolution as a performer and a woman, one can only hope it's not another three years before we hear from her again.