Fiona Apple's new album ‘Extraordinary Machine' – another bruised eyes, pouting wet lipped effort from the now not so young New York singer/songwriter. It has been nominated for a Grammy for "Best Pop Vocal Album". The album looks beautiful – like her promotional photographs the package is faultless. The production is really rather good. On first listen it seems rather interesting until you listen and concentrate (and read the lyrics).


Her first two albums, ‘Tidal' released in 1996 and the pretentiously titled 1999 effort, ‘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' rocketed her to international stardom as a young woman. Much can be forgiven of the young. Her much publicized rape at the age of 12 seemed to give her a credibility in press that wasn't really backed up by the quality (or lack thereof) of her work. I admit that I enjoy "Fast as you can' and find it a innovative song (relatively speaking) but it seems that this new album mines the song again and again without any new growth or creativity.


‘Extraordinary Machine' has had a difficult birth. Originally produced by Jon Brion (who has worked with artists from Aimee Mann to Kanye West and on ‘When the Pawn….'), was aborted by Apple who was dissatisfied with the result. "The actual reason it didn't come out is that I wasn't satisfied with the way it was," she says. "I felt really bad because I wasn't really there to captain the ship. I didn't feel capable of doing it. So I left Jon to make all the decisions, and as a result it became more of a Jon Brion record. I still love that version of the album, I'm still proud of it, but I wouldn't have been able to live with myself if I didn't at least try to get to a place where I could make my own decisions about it." The unfinished tracks were leaked and wound up on the Internet. "First it felt like somebody took my diary," Apple says. "And then I started thinking, now I'm never going to be able to do this the right way."Things seemed to resolve with the arrival of producer Mike Elizondo (Dr. Dre's right-hand music man and session bassist).


The production is lovely: beautiful recording of orchestration and percussion. I'm avoiding writing about the songs themselves because they are rather silly. The title track is fun and catchy and references jazz timing but in a terribly superficial way. The instrumentation is great and humorous in an obvious way. The treatment of the vocals is intimate and warm. That's as kind as I can be I'm afraid – this is the best song on the album – except for the painful falsetto vocals in the bridge which have made me cringe each time I've listened to it.


‘Get Him Back' sounds like a crappy rip off of ‘Fast As You Can' without the interesting timing. The subject matter is adolescent and I'm sad to sad poorly written. ‘O Sailor' – ahhh jeez I just found it boring. ‘Better Version of Me' contains my favourite banal lyrics masquerading as intelligence - at closer inspection the meaning unravels. ‘Tymps' seems interesting but yet again closer inspection yields so very little real meaning. I liked the instrumentation. ‘Parting Gift' sounds sincere, the vocals are lovely but after hearing it a few times the content annoyed me – the end of love is a true tragedy but in the hands of Fiona Apple it is no more or less painful than any other thing that causes the poor sausage angst.


‘Window' has great percussion but the anger of the lyrics seems very diffused by the performance, which is a little bland. ‘Oh Well' I found really awkward, more a sketch than a finished song; it feels as though it should have more time to develop. ‘Please Please Please' has a very irritating keyboard sound that rendered it unlistenable for me so I only gave it 4 or 5 goes. Yuk. ‘Red Red Red' is a sultry ballad – jazzy blues. It sounds nice enough but I read the lyrics and found it a little daft. Great cello sound in the background though. ‘Not About Love' is another song that references ‘Fast As You Can' a little too much. I liked the lyrics best of the whole album – still I'd be more impressed if she was still 20. Lastly ‘Waltz' which is another sketch of a song that seems terribly unfinished despite the ‘lush' strings.


The DVD included in the ‘special' 2-disc release surprised me: seven songs of very mixed audio quality. The music video of ‘Not About Love' made me smile but the joke wore thin by the end of the song. Not even the insight into the reasoning behind the video made me feel kinder. The batch of live recordings from Club Largo is horrible. It's one thing to be shy and modest but another to disregard the audience altogether. I found the performances really amateurish. Still she has a lovely voice and I almost forgave her terrible stage presence when she was singing. I have no idea why these have been released – they should have stayed in the home movie collection! The last recording of ‘Parting Gift' is good – a great insight into the genuine emotion behind these hideous songs: the best of a terrible bunch. Perhaps the extraordinary DVD of ‘The Revelator Collection' by Gillian Welch has forever ruined me for I found this unwatchable and slightly embarrassing.


I recommend this album for folks who have lovely dinner parties in nice apartments so they can have witty empty conversations over the top of it. If you liked this album then track down Moloko's ‘Things To Make and Do', which is really intelligent and innovative. Way back in 1997 Otto Luck said of Apple, "Such is the mystery of Fiona Apple: On one hand she's brilliant, on the other she's brainless. ‘ It seems not much has really changed.

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