Let’s imagine for a second that you are an artist. Not just an artist, a musician. You are not an entertaining lip-syncher, nor a booming gospel voice. You are a writer, a musician, and one hell of a singer. You build songs on jazz platforms and open veined lyrics. Along the way, you sell millions of albums, become part of a celebration of women in music, draw attention to the hypocrisies of not just your industry, but the entertainment industry in general, even as you profit from it. The pulpit is too big an opportunity, so you speak your mind, you take your lumps, but you say interesting things, make your points because you have to, and along the way you make beautifully compelling music sung with a staggered, gruff, whisky-tinged voice. Let's imagine that, after 2 critically hailed and commercially successful albums, you bring your label your third effort and they ask that you kindly turn your cute little butt around and we'll call you when we find the single.
I will admit to being biased here. I adore Fiona Apple. From the first moment I heard Tidal to now, she is one of the artists I will carry with me. I don’t know, nor do I care, if that makes me cool or not, because I admire Fiona. I am a fan, and she is for me, along with Ani DiFranco, one of the most important female musical voices of my life. Hell, one of the most important musical voices, period. You cannot overstate these things as a fan. Being a fan, a fanatic (there is a reason the words are connected) implies that you perscribe more to someone than is probably there, though with Fiona I would certainly disagree. I carry her CDs, her songs on my iPod, almost everywhere I go. Sometimes you just need someone to lend their perspective on things, and if you don’t have that kind of relationship with music then you are not going to understand why we devote ourselves to the careers of certain singers, while others come and go like so many one-night stands. How can you not love someone whose entire title of their sophomore effort is:
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.
That isn’t just brash, that’s John Lennon “we are bigger than God” pissing in the wind and not giving a fuck what people think because it’s outlandish and you know it and you throw it out there and you wait for the smack, you just wait for it, because it’s coming brave. It’s bold.
Apparently, though, what she put together wasn’t good enough for her label. There is word that they couldn't find an identifiable single on there. This is by no means recent news, but the idea sticks in my craw. I wasn’t ever under the impression that Ms. Apple wrote singles. I thought she wrote songs. Was “Criminal” really a single? Was “Fast As You Can?” Or “Limp?” Or “Shadowboxer?” Or “Sleep to Dream?” My two favorite songs of hers happen to be “Paper Bag” and “A Mistake,” both from Pawn. This is not someone who writes disposable garbage, these are not songs that, if you are a fan, you easily forget. They get under your skin, they speak for you when you just cannot find the words for yourself.
I’m not going to sit here and say that the studio had no right to release or not release whatever they want. The music business is, after all, a business. But I could sooner understand Britney’s label turning to her and saying, “What the fuck is this? Come back to us with a hit,” than someone like Fiona. It’s not outside of reason to believe that she has earned the right to come to them and say, “This is what I did. When should we release it?” Artists grow over time. They evolve and change. If I’m still writing the same shit here in two years that I am right now, I prey you aren’t reading. Hell, there’s even an argument to be made that perhaps I should outgrow this. Maybe. But you have to allow someone who has proven in the past to not just write compelling songs, but do so in a format that wins over fans, that sells CDs, that gives the studio back its original investment in exponential terms, who becomes someone that’s written about and thought over, don’t you have to loosen the reigns somewhat?
I don’t know the answers to those questions. But I’ve heard a song of the album, “Extraordinary Machine,” and while it isn’t the best thing she’s ever done, it’s damn good. Produced by Jon Brion, it’s eclectic, vaudevillian, Great White Way inflected and quirky; her voice is still there, still smoky. So you decide. Take a listen. It’s right here. Is it off base to think that, at a bare minimum, she’s earned the right to put out an album or two as the muse hits her? I'm pretty transparent on this.
But then again, if I were married or committed to someone right now, Fiona would be one of my 3 “Honey, I love you, but you have to understand, it’s Fiona Apple. If Brad Pitt were here I’d tell you to go for your life. I’ll call you in the morning.” So perhaps I’m not the right person to ask about this. Still, it seems a shame.