Fiona Apple Takes Aim In When The Pawn Hits... 
SonicNet  · 
Oct '99

by Gil Kaufman

Sophomore album offers biting, uninhibited lyrics and jazzy overtones. 

Fiona Apple's 90-word title for her sophomore album may be verbose, but the singer/songwriter minces no words in the scathing lyrics to the LP's 10 moody songs.

Continuing in the confessional vein of Tidal, her multiplatinum 1996 debut, the new album relies in part on the same biting vocal delivery, spare drum beats and ominous-sounding piano that marked such previous hits as "Criminal."

"This time it was a lot more me — an uninhibited me, a confident me," Apple said about the sessions in a statement.

The full title of the album, due Nov. 9, is 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.

Apple's uninhibited, confident persona bursts out of such tracks as "Limp," a galloping, uptempo number driven by jazzy piano; skittering, syncopated drumbeats; and the singer's vicious lyrics. "And when I think of it, my fingers turn to fists," Apple rages in the chorus of the song, one of many in which the singer appears to be exacting revenge on an unkind lover.

"I never did anything to you, man/ But no matter what I try," she continues as her words pile up in a rush of emotion, "You'll beat me with your bitter lies/ 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."

"For a while, I was really afraid of not being able to write new songs," Apple said. "Mainly, I write to clarify my thoughts and feelings, and when I sing, I just concentrate on getting my point across. I just want to make a statement and make it right."

The singer's search for clarity comes across in songs such as the album opener, "On the Bound," a creeping jazz-rock track in which the singer mourns her indecision in a sultry, blues-belting growl. "You're all I need," Apple sings, her voice quivering, "and maybe some faith would do me good/ I don't know what I'm doing, don't know should I/ Change my mind, I can't decide, there's too many/ Variations to consider."

Apple plays the percussive piano riff on the song as well as the variously classical-sounding and downbeat boogie woogie–style piano parts on the album's other tracks. Los Angeles musician and producer Jon Brion (Aimee Mann), who performed on Tidal, produced the new effort and plays a variety of instruments on all the songs.

Other guests include eels drummer Butch, who performs on "Limp" and the chaotic, crime-jazzlike "To Your Love." Veteran session drummer Jim Keltner (Bob Dylan) plays drums on the downbeat ballad "I Know."

With poetic lyrics that reveal a greater emotional depth than some of the more straightforward songs on Tidal — such as "Sullen Girl" (RealAudio excerpt) — the new album strikes some fans as presenting the 22-year-old singer in a more mature light, both vocally and lyrically.

"On this album, [Apple's voice is] stronger and more flexible," wrote 17-year-old Lane Collins, who said she'd heard the entire album already. The webmaster of the unofficial "Fiona Has Wings" website said she thought When the Pawn Hits ... has more of a jazz influence and a confidence and playfulness that weren't as pronounced on Tidal.

"The new material is better than Tidal, in that it's more connected and settled," Collins said. "Not to say that all the songs sound the same, but her personal style weaves through the album, and you can hear a piece of Fiona in the production and sound of each song."

In addition to the frantic, drum & bass-meets-jazz of the first single, "Fast As You Can" (RealAudio excerpt), the album also features the lush, sultry ballads "Love Ridden" and "The Way Things Are" and the psychedelic lounge song "A Mistake."

Other songs include the emotional roller-coaster ride of "Get Gone" — one of several songs to feature a Chamberlin, a presynthesizer sampler that uses audiotape to cue sounds — and "Paper Bag." The latter, a sly, sing-songy pop tune, also features muted-brass backing reminiscent of famed composer Burt Bacharach's arrangements in the '60s with such artists as Dionne Warwick. The song has some of Apple's most playful lyrics to date.

"He said 'It's all in your head,' and I said 'So's everything'/ But he didn't get it," she sings in a languid voice. "I thought he was a man/ But he was just a little boy."