By: Eric Greenwood
So, it turns out that Fiona Apple's now notorious Extraordinary Machine was never really shelved by Sony, but, since there was such a public outcry on her behalf, Apple was too embarrassed to admit that the delay was mainly a result of her own laziness. Apple was simply in no hurry to shove her mug back into the limelight. It is true, however, that Sony sort frowned perplexingly at the Jon Brion version of Extraordinary Machine, but it was Apple's own dissatisfaction that prompted the actual re-recording.
I'm not going to compare and contrast the two versions of the albums, except to say that Apple made the right decision in deciding it wasn't good enough in its original form. Brion's busy, string-heavy production blurred too many of Apple's edges, which Mike Elizondo does a masterful job of reinstating. He focuses on the beats and Apple's vocal ticks and nuances, as opposed to gussying up what doesn't need any dressing.
Apple's typically bleary-eyed delivery has an unexpected jovial bounce on the opening, title track. Buoyed by Brion's cinematic strings and playful beats, the throwback Tin Pan Alley feel of "Extraordinary Machine" betrays Apple's gossamer pathos that she feverishly promulgated on her first two records. It's a weirdly intriguing way to end a six-year hiatus, to say the least.
As the album progresses it's clear that Apple's cheery demeanor was just a ruse. Her sunken huskiness returns on the plaintive "O' Sailor"- a tugging, lamenting ballad that recalls the listless brilliance of her debut, Tidal. The anger that brimmed on her sophomore album, When The Pawn…, rears its head on "Tymps (The Sick in the Head Song), wherein Apple wants to bleed herself dry just to get over a relationship. That sort of Plath-like hyperbole plays perfectly into Apple's unpredictable mania.
Apple has frequently bitten off more than she can chew lyrically, often sounding like a little girl with far too sophisticated problems for her age, her pubescent rape notwithstanding, but her feistiness and gushing talent have always balanced the incongruity. Now that her age has caught up with her angst, her songs seem to have more weight, as the bi-polar thunder of "Not About Love" clearly demonstrates. She makes it difficult to be patronizing. She's clever and sharp with her lyrical daggers, and she's frighteningly aware of the impact of her own voice.