[26] Fiona Apple – When The Pawn

4 Oct

If I have a second favorite genre – after arena rock – it is that girl and guitar (or sometimes piano) sound, often angry, always heartfelt.  Tori Amos, Sophie B Hawkins, Ani DiFranco, and The Indigo Girls are among my very favorites (and all missing from the list) but somehow I have never heard Fiona Apple.

When The Pawn

When The Pawn











I have heard the name of course, and it would not surprise me if I actually did know one or two of her hits without realizing who was singing, but somehow she has passed me by entirely.

As soon as I hear her voice I know it has been my loss.

The swirling, layered accompaniment of the opening track has a psychadelic Beatlesesque vibe, with the vocals clean and up front – in your face and not to be ignored – but the lyrics do not have anything like the innocence of that 60s sound.

As the disc continues, there are weird merry-go-round grooves, syncopated backbeats, straight ahead piano and vocal pop, eastern intervals, synthesized psychadelia and occasional electronica, even showtune sensibilities.  And the careful, cultured voice emoting over it all.

The obvious comparison is to Alanis Morrisette, but Apple’s voice is more assured, less affected and gimmicky.  The classical piano arrangements that intersperse the homogenous modern pop sounds vary the experience, and Apple herself ties the whole together, her mood veering dizzyingly between playful and biting.

I’m greatly enjoying this, but not clear why it is that Moon has picked this album and this artist over others – Little Earthquakes by Tori Amos for an obvious example.

Then it hits me that the range of musical styles embraced across these 10 tracks is astounding.

Little Earthquakes is arguably more seminal, more personal and lyrical, but When The Pawn simply covers so much stylistic ground, with so much packed into each arrangement that I will continue to listen to Apple’s masterpiece to catch newly discovered musical morsels the way I still scour Tori tracks to shed light on a piece of perfect wordplay.

I can’t help but wonder if Apple only gets her chance to make ths album thanks to the trail blazed by Amos before her, but I’m really splitting hairs here.  And of course, the same was said of Amos herself in regard to Kate Bush (who does appear in the 1,000), notwithstanding the former’s insistence that she had never heard of the latter.

I’m loving the album, glad to have discovered it and mystified as to why I never sought Apple out before.  She is by turns upbeat and toe tapping, flowing and introspective and the whole hangs together beautifully.

Perhaps the only thing that is missing is the emotional attachment, the personal connection that comes from organic discovery.   Tori and Sophie and the rest have years of powerful baggage attached – road trips, lost loves, vivid memories, the weight of history.  In this context, Fiona is by contrast sterile, at least for me, at least today.

Here, however, is another album that people stop to ask who I’m listening to – like me, they all know the name but don’t seem to recognize the sound of this particular album, yet are clearly drawn to it.

Each track is so different from every other, it may be that there was no obvious single to showcase the album.  If ever there was an argument for hearing the whole rather than just downloading parts for a ringtone, When The Pawn may be it.

Owned before blogging? No. (2 of 26. 8%)
Heard before blogging? No. (4 of 26. 15%)
Recommend? Yes. (21 of 26. 81%)

Next Week: The Arcade Fire – Neon Bible

3 Responses to “[26] Fiona Apple – When The Pawn”

  1. Phil October 4, 2013 at 10:08 AM #

    Fantastic album, one of my all time favourites! 🙂

  2. Jennifer October 4, 2013 at 10:19 AM #

    This is one of my favorite albums! And it was one I often listened to while walking to Brooklyn College. Glad you liked it.

  3. doronklemer October 8, 2013 at 2:17 PM #

    Must be genetic: I haven’t actually heard her before either!!…

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