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. Fiona Apple (Epic)
Fiona Apple fretted about being called a "sullen girl" and sang about "the blue of my oblivion" on her triple-platinum debut
Three years later, after being assailed for her self-important comments, her pouty demeanor and her wanton video for the single "Criminal," Apple doesn't seem worried about her critics anymore.
The Los Angeles-based performer's sophomore release, "When the Pawn ...," kicks off with the line "It's true, I do imbue my blue unto myself/I make it bitter." The poster girl for angry waifs takes a few other jabs at herself - starting with a full title that rambles for 90 words - but the bottom line is: If you've got a problem with Fiona Apple, it's your problem.
Good for her.
"Tidal" introduced a gifted 19-year-old singer/pianist, but it was flawed by bouts of monotony and unfocused stretches.
"When the Pawn" eliminates the tedium, adds the focus and fills out her basic piano arrangements with a fuller, more artistic sound hinged to an omnipresent chamberlain (an old type of sampler rich in quirky flavor) as well as strings, woodwinds and guitar. Multi-instrumental Jon Brion returns as a better fit this time, whether he's pitting Apple against a soft-shuffling march on "Get Gone," helping her wrap around the sauntering vibe of "The Way Things Are" or setting her up for the grandiose finale, "I Know."
Defiantly sour, conflicted and sardonic, Apple's imaginative lyrics are an ideal match for her world-weary, throaty voice. OK, maybe she's a little too fond of her own eccentricities - evidenced on the loungelike "To Your Love" and the first single, "Fast as You Can," an unconventional and bold romp. Yet the loose, jazzy flow and her wry sensibilities help her get away with lines such as "Fast as you can/Baby free yourself of me" (on "Fast as You Can"), "Hunger hurts, but starving works/When it costs too much to love" (on the
Beatles-esque "Paper Bag"), and "When I think about it, my fingers turn to fists/I never did anything to you, man" (on the percolating "Limp").
Plus the humor's never far away: On the spacey "A Mistake," she coos with the polish of a torch singer, "I've acquired quite a taste/For a well-made mistake," and to her belted mantra of "You're all I need" on "On the Bound," she quietly adds, "And maybe some faith would do me good."
She dishes her attitude with a smile and backs it up with talent.
Got a problem with that?
Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5