Fiona Apple When the Pawn... (Clean Slate/Epic)

National Records

Fiona Apple

When the Pawn " (Clean Slate/Epic)

When the Apple hits cascaded 'cross the fall of '96, with the video so nasty and the twitchy, pouty lips, I thought: "What's this sex bomb on my TV, this anorectic on the air?" and despite that sullen image 10 million teenage girls were ensnared. Tidal moved unheard-of units on the strength of broken hearts, a tsunami of confusion, angst, and languid vocal parts. Apple, seeming bitter, perhaps bruised unto the core, took the pulpit, and cried, "This is shit!" then quickly vanished out the door. Critics large and critics small decried this waif so clearly bent (though the girls in 4-B next door surely found her heaven-sent). Three years have now eloped, and dreck like Britney clots the dial, so forgive me if I grimace at the irony then smile, because Fiona's brand of heartache is a welcome, dark respite from the avalanche of popcrap that clogs my Pioneer at night. Although she's shed a lot of baggage in the years that now have passed, I think this scrappy little pianist has finally got it down at last. In tracks like "A Mistake," a narco-riff that lodges in the brain, Fiona and partner Jon Brion merge angst and punk and pain; take the single "Fast as You Can." I challenge you to find a catchier ode to bleak despair. Not the cup of tea for everyone, I know, some hate her still, but let me tell you here and now this trumps that jagged little pill.

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