Extraordinary Machine

Fiona Apple's long-awaited third album is a nice collection of intricate songs, a little more complex than her earlier music if not as immediately obvious.

After her second album, Apple took some time off after her the strains and stresses of public life—including taking a lot of heat for a rambling monologue at the MTV Video Music Awards and an on-stage breakdown at a New York concert. Although she considered retiring from recording entirely, she evenually went back into a studio with producer Jon Brion (who also was behind the board for her 1999 When the Pawn… album) and, according to media reports, Apple's record label was talking about a Fall 2003 release. But nothing came out and fans started getting cranky, eventually setting up 'free Fiona' websites and inspiring a series of high-profile articles about the grassroots rumbling from Apple fans.

Regardless the reason for the delay, it was worth the wait. From the playful loping orchestral arrangement of the title song and opening track to the Kurt Weill-esque final number "Waltz (Better Than Fine)," Apple takes the burgeoning complexity of When the Pawn… and refines on it, fleshing out her sound, and making very little compromise to popular tastes.

"Oh Well" is a powerful ruptured love song with an ominous piano hook, and a great emotional peak when Apple angrily snarls "What wasted unconditional love on somebody who doesn't believe in the stuff," using her trilly vibrato to add that extra emotional edge.

The playful title song could just as easily be Apple's assessment of the music industry as a parable about a rocky relationship. "I'm good at being uncomfortable so I can't stop changing all the time," she sings, contrasted with an opposite assessment of her partner: "He's no good at being uncomfortable, so he can't stop staying exactly the same." The music is as playful as the words, beginning with bouncy pizzicato strings and punctuated with a repeated chime like a wind-up clock.

Roger Manning, of Jellyfish fame, plays some keyboards, ?uestlove of The Roots adds some drumwork on one track, and crack session aces Jim Keltner and Benmonth Tench also contribute.

The original version of the album was produced by Jon Brion, but the final version was largely overseen by Mike Elizondo, who as a producer is better known for his work in hip-hop.

Fiona Apple has created an album that becomes more satisfying with repeated listens, adding to a career that is always intriguing and ultimately memorable.

Mike Sauter, WYEP Music Director