Extraordinary Apple fulfills promise on third album

By Emale Gray

Nearly six years have passed since Fiona Apple dropped her album When the Pawn… and nine since her first hit—“Criminal”—was released on her debut album, Tidal. After all her success, Apple took a break and wrote songs at her leisure, since she felt she had already poured her heart out in her previous albums. She soon met up with producer Jon Brion, and they discussed making a new album. One thing led to another, and Apple was in the studio again, recording a rough draft of Extraordinary Machine. However, the “finished product” left her feeling unfulfilled.

After meeting with Apple, producer and bassist Mike Elizando created some new samples of her original tracks. Apple soon regained her passion and drive, and the making of the current Extraordinary Machine began.

The recording company Epic, a subsidiary of Sony, then approached Apple with a potential deal: she submits her finished songs to Epic, and if they give the OK, then she can have more money to produce another song. Otherwise, that song is shelved, and she has to redo it. Apple didn’t like this agreement and went on a preemptive strike.

Meanwhile, the Brion versions of Extraordinary Machine leaked over the internet—track by track—until the whole album was available for download. Eventually, fans created a web site called FreeFiona.com under the assumption that Epic had shelved this album—when, in reality, Apple was the one that didn’t want that version released.

FreeFiona.com unintentionally aided Apple’s cause, though. Epic finally did provide her with the resources necessary to rerecord the album—and the world heaved a collective sigh of relief.

The leaked version of Extraordinary Machine reeks of Jon Brion with its unbridled string and horn use. Most of the songs are based around Fiona’s piano playing and are enhanced by strings and other wind instruments, making the album her most orchestral and original album to date. Not only did her instrumentation mature, but so did her voice, gaining a newfound huskiness and vulnerability.

The album did have its downfalls, as it was rather boring at times and had minor gaps in the production, giving Apple reason to want to tweak it a bit. Nevertheless, after hearing this final version of Extraordinary Machine, it is obvious that there was a little more than “tweaking” done to this album.

The cover art (a plant which Apple herself cannot even identify) sums up the album in one word: weird. To elaborate (or quite possibly renounce what I just stated), it is an example of an “extraordinary machine” in the way it sprouts its buds, and features what Apple claims resemble “fists.” Furthermore, it is an illustrious representation of Fiona herself.

“Be kind to me, or treat me mean/ I’ll make the most of it, I’m an extraordinary machine,” sings Apple confidently in the title track and show-starter “Extraordinary Machine,” a song decorated with a brilliant string ensemble. Both the stalker-ish lyrics and inebriated musical environment in “Get Him Back” make me wonder what she plans to do when she actually catches her prey.

This newer version of “O’Sailor” is miles ahead of its predecessor (the Brion version), incorporating weirdness of all kinds within its haunting backgrounds. “Better Version of Me” is improved as well, with poignant horns, guitar solos, and lively drums.

After first hearing “Tymps (The Sick in the Head Song),” I immediately thought of a Dr. Dre production, as it resembled something he would tackle in a heartbeat. (By the way, does anyone know what a “tymp” is? Just asking.)

Both the lyrics and music of “Parting Gift” leave Fiona at her most susceptible, intensely playing her piano and crooning, “I took off my glasses, while you were yelling at me once/ More than once/ So’s not to see you see me react.”

“Window” holds one award-winning, theatrical performance due to Elizando’s production genius, right alongside Apple’s illustration of how she had to break a window simply because “it just had to be.” Apple does her normal brooding in “Oh Well,” but the encouraging French horns lead her toward an unexpected resolution and a concession in which she states her final words of “Oh, well.”

The depression that consumed much of Tidal makes an appearance on Extraordinary Machine in the form of “Red, Red, Red,” with Fiona singing as if she is all cried out and ready to give up on the world. Accentuated by light percussion, the mellifluous tone of the song resonates and in the end fades to black.

Similar to awakening after a long night’s slumber, “Not About Love” begins with an apprehensive drum set and progresses further, adding an alarming guitar and piano duet. The unsteady metronome and intense choruses become graphic imagery of the love Apple has endured. Apple bookends the album with another Jon Brion track “Waltz (Better Than Fine),” which includes soothing strings and woodwinds (specifically clarinet and flute, and later a bit of French horn) to establish a fully orchestrated piece of art.

Fiona couldn’t have exemplified both her perspective on music and Extraordinary Machine better than in her lyrics in “Please, Please, Please” (a song some say is a direct shot at Epic Records): “Give us something familiar, something similar/ To what we know already/ That will keep us steady/ Steady/ Steady going nowhere.’” Apple pulls through, as nothing on this record is similar to anything we have heard already.