Fiona Apple: When The Pawn Hits The Conflicts...

Fiona Apple: When The Pawn Hits The Conflicts...

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Fiona Apple

Album: When The Pawn Hits The Conflicts...

Note to naïve pop stars: Answering your critics by using a 90-word boxing- and chess-themed stream-of-consciousness poem as your album title is a guaranteed way to encourage even more virulent criticism. Fiona Apple has already discovered this seemingly self-evident truism the hard way with the release of her second album, When The Pawn Hits The Conflicts He Thinks Like A King What He Knows Throws The Blows When He Goes To The Fight And He'll Win The Whole Thing 'Fore He Enters The Ring There's No Body To Batter When Your Mind Is Your Might So When You Go Solo, You Hold Your Own Hand And Remember That Depth Is The Greatest Of Heights And If You Know Where You Stand, Then You Know Where To Land And If You Fall It Won't Matter, Cuz You'll Know That You're Right. Apple's public persona has done her more damage than any mean-spirited journalist could ever hope to inflict: At 22, she's already more insufferable than Courtney Love, a fact that often threatens to overshadow her compelling music. Fortunately, Apple is also crafty, covering up her rambling, dorm-friendly lyrics with sharp arrangements and sturdy songcraft. Her secret weapon is producer and multi-instrumentalist Jon Brion (Aimee Mann, Rufus Wainwright), who never hesitates to throw on another layer of humming organ or ping-ponging percussion. Apple's songs are supple enough to support that sort of studio experimentation, and as a singer her husky voice proves a fine instrument—though, like Trent Reznor, she's generally better heard than actually listened to. For the most part, the would-be Dylan (Bob, Thomas; doesn't matter) is at her best when she just gives in to the music. "Limp," for example, gets by on a funky piano hook, sliding bass, and skittering percussion, all catchy enough to make up for the unfortunate sexual metaphors. "Fast As You Can" changes shape so quickly that it's hard to pin down: It's neo-drum-and-bass one measure, piano ballad the next, with a subtle segue into Afro-Caribbean sounds tossed in for effect. No longer just this year's ingenue, Apple is slowly growing into her own music, filling "Get Gone" and "I Know" with furious sentiments that reveal the pointed artist trapped inside the precocious showgirl.