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Extraordinary Machine PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 04 March 2005
Well, it's finally happening: more and more tracks from Fiona Apple's shelved follow-up to When the Pawn..., the brilliantly titled Extraordinary Machine, have made their way onto the Internet. As expected, the songs are brilliant -- click here if you want to have your ears and mind thoroughly blown. It's no surprise that Apple's new tracks are unbelievably well-crafted, ingeniously creative slices of perfect pop. What is shocking, however, is the way in which Sony has dealt with the record and its supporters. What's up, Sony? What's happenin'?
Lots of musicians read the Broadsheet, as it is (essentially) the de facto center for a scene that has been slowly taking the East Village by storm (just as Eric -- he never gets tired of telling you who's where and how often). Now, if you're a musician, and you're reading this article right here, and you're not concerned about the shelving of Apple's third LP, then you aren't looking close enough. A multi-platinum artist, a veritable cultural icon of the 1990s, and one of the greatest songwriters we've got, has been unable to release an album that was finished in May of 2003. May 2003, boys and girls. We're approaching the two-year anniversary of the record's completion, and all we have to show for it is a handful of MP3's and an oddly silent Sony corporate hierarchy who couldn't be bothered to respond to the group of protesters who demanded the release of this artist's work. Are you worried yet? Yeah? Good.

Don't make the mistake of comparing this to a Wilco Yankee Hotel Foxtrot situation: this is a wholly different beast. YHF was a borderline avant-garde freak-out by a band that had yet to make their label any substantial amount of money. As terrible as the whole debacle was, it is understandable from a corporate angle: this band hasn't made us money yet, this record is too odd to make us any cash at all, so we're not going to waste the time and money to get the sucker out. I don't endorse this kind of thinking, but it does make perfect sense. We all know the rest of the story: Internet leak, radio play, record released and big big hit. But I can't stress enough that Wilco was (business-wise) an unproven group. Fiona Apple, as we all know, is anything but: When the Pawn... going platinum once was considered a failure by Sony/Epic only because Tidal sold three million copies. Three million copies!  I mean, come on!

Now, you'd think that after selling roughly four million units, an artist would have a little pull within the record company, at least enough to get her record out. What could possibly explain the shelving of a record by an artist who has never failed to bring money in for her label, and whose fan base is so strong that they're willing to brave bonechilling cold just to hold up some signs in front of the Sony corporate offices?

A big part of the problem may be Sony CEO Andrew Lack, whose experience with the record business is...well, before taking his post, he didn't have any. At all. None. So when Lack decided to "study up" for a year before taking over Sony, he came to the decision that the label should focus almost exclusively on hip-hop and pop groups. Makes perfect sense, I must admit: hip-hop and pop will make pots of cash and ensure that everyone in the Sony hierarchy can buy brand new Rolls Royces and beach houses and manservants and whatever else really rich people buy.  But there's a shortsightedness in the way in which many labels operate nowadays, Sony included. The instant pop sensation may push more units than the maverick genius types, but as Machiavelli once famously said, si guarda al fine: one must consider the end result. Who, in the end, will make the company more money: an artist who blows their financial load within the first year of their records' release, or an artist whose back catalog will continue to bring in revenue for years after the artist has died/stop recording? Will Juvenile's old records still sell in 2020? Highly doubtful.

I don't know why I'm going on about this. Aren't I a little too old and a little too cynical to be outraged by corporate decisions on art? Frankly, the Fiona situation is  standard modern record label rubbish. There's no reason to cry Chicken Little about  this: we all know what a dangerous precedent it sets, we all know how artistically dishonest it is. Download the songs, listen to them, and come to your own conclusions. Maybe you'll agree with Andrew Lack and the Sony hierarchy: but if you're a musician, and you're concerned about your future at a record label, I really fucking hope you don't.

'Til next time,


p.s. I have a bad cold, so I apologize if my prose was a little off. My head hurts.
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