Fiona Apple
 When The Pawn...
(Clean Slate/Epic)
Nov '99
by Alexandra Flood

Fiona Apple doesn't do anything half way. Consider the title of her sophomore album: 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 the 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. It's a whopper all right, a real doozy of a title that holds nothing back -- and perhaps perfectly fitting for this album from the 98-pound creative heavyweight. 

Apple stunned many of us with her 1996 debut, Tidal, when she was just a tender 19-year-old and musically wise beyond her years. Not that she wasn't green in other areas -- take her cringe-worthy enfant terrible acceptance speech at the MTV Video Music Awards two years ago -- I still shudder at the thought of it. But at the thought of Tidal, I am transfixed. When the Pawn... proves, in case anyone was wondering if Apple was a mere flash in the music biz pan, that her first record was no fluke. Her new music is just as raw and just as smart, without being redundant. 

Fiona seems to have volunteered for the job as the Purveyor of Millennial Emotional Darkness. The first track, the piano fraught, spaced-out "On the Bound" exclaims: "You're all I need!/ Maybe some faith would do me good." "To Your Love," a seismic "Dear John" letter, says, "Please forgive me for my distance/ Pain is evident in my existence/ Please forgive me for my distance/ Shame is manifest to my resistance/To your love." 

"Limp" isn't limp at all, but a fierce kiss-off in the form of a musical geyser: "It won't be long now until you'll be lying limp in your own hands." "Love Ridden" as you might expect, isn't a happy love song, but it's one of the musically more straightforward on the LP -- Fiona at the piano crooning about a bastard, with orchestral strings backing her up. "Paper Bag" is one of the more curious of the ten tracks. It's surprising as it's a little plucky bit of Beatles-esque sunshine, until you listen to Apple's words: "I went crazy again today/ Looking for a strand to climb/Looking for a little hope." The single, "Fast As You Can," is a frenetic, percussion laden, pass-at-your-own-risk warning to a prospective lover. 

When the Pawn... isn't a particularly happy album, but Fiona does dark so well, it makes you want to pray for rain so you can hole up to write in your journal about your own bastards. Listening to one of the best albums of the year ought to inspire you.