So what's the end result of all this? One doozy of a breakup album. Apple wrote much of Extraordinary Machine in the wake of her split from Paul Thomas Anderson, writer and director of Boogie Nights and Magnolia. The combination of this experience and just plain maturity -- Apple released 1996's Tidal and 1999's When the Pawn . . . when she was eighteen and twenty-two, respectively -- have helped to make Machine Apple's strongest and most detailed batch of songs yet.
The finished album opens and closes with two untouched cuts from the Brion sessions: the quirky title track and the equally ornate "Waltz (Better Than Fine)"; both feature the string-laden orchestrations, arcane instrumentation and unconventional rhythms the producer has brought to his work with Rufus Wainwright and Badly Drawn Boy. Between these songs are newly recorded, radically reworked versions of other Brion tracks plus one brand-new tune, "Parting Gift." Elizondo and Kehew set Apple's smoky voice and expressive piano in simple settings that support her wry wordplay just as a hip-hop track leaves space for an MC. "Tymps (The Sick in the Head Song)" -- known on the Web as "Used to Love Him" -- features a snappy looped beat that wouldn't be out of place in an Eminem tune. Elizondo and Kehew give the tracks energy with woodwinds, brass, guitars and swinging live drums courtesy of heavy hitters Abe Laboriel Jr. and ?uestlove of the Roots. Hard-core fans will recognize much of "O' Sailor" -- a repetitive, almost "Hey Jude"-like highlight -- from the earlier Brion version, until the final stanza, where Elizondo and Kehew have Apple take a sad song and make it better; she shifts to a higher register and brings the bittersweet tune home in harmony.
Lyrically, Apple has never been as clever, as angered or as anguished. On the menacing "Red Red Red," she compares trying to get to the hidden heart of a secretive lover with mining for diamonds: "I think if I didn't have to kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill myself doing it/Maybe I wouldn't think so much of you." On the rollicking "Window," she destroys a "filthy pane" to achieve emotional clarity on a lover's lack of fidelity: "Better that I break the window/Than him or her or me" and concludes with an emphatic "Especially me!" (another new touch). Throughout, Apple's torch and torch-you songs now balance her precocious depth with a hard-won directness. Against all odds, Extraordinary Machine lives up to its title as a testimony to its creator's resilience and flexibility. Apple hasn't compromised, as some of her fans have feared; instead she's turned her label's interference into inspiration.
(Posted: Oct 6, 2005)
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2 of 2 found this comment useful ( 100% )
Extrodinary Machine is by far the best album I have listened to in yrs. I can finally breath. After yrs of pop junk this is the fresh air I was waiting for. Apple was able to mix several diferent genres not simply throughout the album but throughout the songs. This album more then her previous reminds me of the better works of Joni Mitchell but she manages to borrow from Mitchell without copying her. It's poerty. "Parting Gift" is simply amazing. I can't stop listening to that song. It's so painful yet beautiful. The execs at her record company were nuts to question her ability to produce a top album. The entire album was enjoyable. If they want to solve their record slump problems they need to support REAL artists like Fiona Apple.
Feb 19, 2006 20:24:22