Fiona Apple: Extraordinary Machine

Fiona Apple
Extraordinary Machine

There's no reason to suspect that Fiona Apple would rather have shipped an alternate recording of Extraordinary Machine to stores. Still, "grasping corporate patron stifles visionary artist" is an archetype too powerful for mere facts to contradict. When the collection of demos that leaked online in 2004, produced with regular accomplice Jon Brion, were replaced with versions of those same songs recorded this year with Dr. Dre associate Mike Elizondo, web scroungers besotted with the originals cried corporate censorship. And yet, by all reports, Apple acquiesced to label demands with the bare minimum of kicks and/or screams.

You can hear why she did: While Brion engulfs Apple in synth triplets, horn doodles, and cute rhythms, Elizondo's still-nuanced backdrop flatters the star. The Disney strings and xylophone that tiptoe across the title song, one of two leaked Brion tracks to make the final cut, are the ideal foil for Apple in whimsical mode. But more often, she's a woman striving for the detachment to be amused by her own pain, and she needs some damn space to pull off that psychological double back flip with a twist. Brion's candied baroque nudged Apple upward toward impressive melodrama on the original "Red Red Red," but the sentiment rings truer when her vocal mood can shift as freely as the ambient synth Elizondo runs underneath. "Parting Gift," presumably the single the suits demanded, is all solo piano and unfurling rhetorical curlicues: "I opened my eyes/While you were kissing me once more than once/And you looked as sincere as a dog/Just as sincere as a dog does/When it's the food on your lips with which it's in love."

Writers pecking safely beyond the reach of editors, convinced the first draft is the deepest, naturally prefer the overstuffed, the unpruned, the raw. Full disclosure alert: I blog myself, dig many of the Brion tracks, and occasionally find mandated revision stifling. But not here. With new vocals that mull over a proper response, and chording that clangs surefootedly rather than fight Brion's whimsical scamper, Apple polishes heartbreak into a stylish defiance. The goal of the pop artist, after all, is to reprocess experience, continually fabricating what she considers a better version of herself. And the compulsion of the pop fan is to second-guess, to pry beneath the fabrication, and to forget that often artifice and essence are inseparable. Next time, you can't see it till it's finished.

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