WISE BEYOND HER YEARS
Still a teen, Fiona Apple bites into adult passions
TIME    Jul 19  '96

by Christopher John Farley

Fiona Apple is only 18 years old.  And she looks even younger than that, with her small, slight frame and large, innocent eyes.  But when she sings, she sounds twice as old, twice as wise as her years.  In her promising debut album, Tidal, Apple's unassuming but versatile alto explores issues of abandonment and desire.  In the Latin-tinged song The First Taste, her voice suggests the distant melancholy of soul singer Sade; in Sleep to Dream she assumes a smoldering anger that comes off like a muted Alanis Morissette; and in the wordy, moody Sullen Girl she evokes arty singer-pianist Tori Amos.  But Apple, who plays the piano and writes her own songs, is more than an imitation of her predecessors. By the end of Tidal she's sketched out a musical identity of her own that's articulate and precocious.

In the realm of talk shows and glossy magazines, many young performers seem to end their careers in therapy. Apple began hers that way.  Growing up in New York City, she says, "I spent much of my time by myself, and when I wasn't by myself physically, I was by myself in my head." She says her family thought she was "strange," so, at age 11 she was bundled off to a therapist.  She didn't think she needed one, and, frustrated, she turned to music to explore her emotions and thoughts on her own.

Apple's lyrics have a sad, cloistered feeling to them. In Sullen Girl she sings, "It's calm under the waves in the blue of my oblivion"; and in Carrion she imagines a broken relationship as a corpse lying between two lovers "like the carrion of a murdered prey."

Few 18-year-olds have the imagination--or the insight--to write such songs.  Apple credits--or blames--her parents, who split several years ago, for her emotional acuity.  "You can be young and know a lot about relationships," she says.  "I've been in the middle of a couple of marriages, so I've seen a lot about how relationships work."  The newcomer hasn't given any live solo concerts in the U.S., so the jury's not in on her ability to perform outside a studio.  In the meantime, though, Tidal shows that something good can come from the end of a marriage.   fin