If every song on this album were even half as good as the whimsical, playful (yet introspective) title track, it would be album of the year. On "Extraordinary Machine" piano and singing protegee Fiona Apple's simple, sceptical verses with their Vaudeville scents build to a lovely soprano climax packed with subtle vocal variation.
Her vocal style, at once skilful and natural as if she were just talking to you, recalls Tanita Tikaram's early soft edges and gloomy prettiness with a kick of "one of these days, these boots are going to walk all over you". Unfortunately, most of the album doesn't live up to the awesome first track - almost all of it consists of sophisticated whining about men.
Not that there's anything wrong in itself with whining about men - it's an industry! It can even be fun. The trick, though, is to do it well, and not actively bore your audience both lyrically and musically. Fiona gets faintly boring. Even "O' Sailor", which starts off so well with a promising chorus , lapses into repetition. "Parting Gift", rather than being delightfully bitchy, is just plain mean. Is cruelty to the vulnerable fair revenge for things done to her in the past?
The album's been well publicised since about 2003, when someone leaked that the record company handling her (then Sony Music, now Sony BMG) wasn't happy with the songs. But her loyal fan base, who'd loved her first album and MTV Award winning video, and who were still hanging in there for more over seven years later, clamoured loudly to hear the songs. This album is the result.
Extraordinary Machine's sound is pretty overall, and fans of this kind of lightly alternative chick pop from the New York scene can satisfy their thirst for new material somewhat with this release. And it's fairly adventurous musically, playing with expressive dissonance almost as much as it does with harmony. Check out the funky bitterness of "Get Him Back" for a taste.
If you're into the online downloads thing, buy the title track "Extraordinary Machine", "Get Him Back", "Parting gift" and perhaps "Tymps (the sick in the head song)". The tortured tunes of Fiona Apple are good taken in small amounts, but she can start to taste a bit self-important if you overdo the dose.A DVD Version shows Apple performing live - which she does in a rather withdrawn manner. Whether her messups are deliberate and cute or merely messups is anyone's guess.
- Jean Barker
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