The WORK Group, 1996
REVIEW BY: Eric Atwell
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/03/1998
She made a mockery of grace while accepting an award at one of those MTV award shows that gets replayed every couple hours. Don't be like us, she said, because this is all bullshit. My first thought was, "Now here is one dumb bastard. People all over dream (but don't sleep to, of course) about making it in the biz...and this freak, a certified Sony corporate product created in a boardroom, is telling the masses not to dress like her." Of course I was watching the award show in the first place, so who the hell am I to judge, right? I do, however, give people a lot more credit than Fiona Apple apparently does.
She presents a serious problem (which I find to be interesting, which is probably why I'm doing this review). Hopefully my thoughts aren't too ambiguous as a result. Despite her obvious premeditated stardom, and rambling on the lunatic fringe, she has a fine, fine voice. A voice I would marry. Her pipes sound wizened and anything but post-adolescent. She has a supple and schooled delivery that can change colors when necessary. Tidal's conception may have been based on displaying Apple's voice in many different settings. Despite this thought, it's surprisingly focused on her music (she wrote all the songs).
I first saw her on a young artist show a couple years ago, and she was performing one of her soon to be singles, "Shadowboxer". Honestly? I thought it was a great song. Here's this cute, slightly pudgy girl with the ability to do torch songs, and she's really rocking. But after the song ended, she slinked up to the mic and proceeded to whine and moan about various issues she felt were important enough to ruin the whole set. This went on for a good 10 minutes! Thus the conflict: The Voice, and The Idiocy. Of course, her handlers have now molded her into a vixen with the requisite heroin chic look of skinniness and sunken eyes. I hate MTV.
Tidal opens with a musky bass drum dirge, on what is the album's best song, "Sleep To Dream". The subtle problem with "Sleep To Dream" reflects an issue I have with the whole image building process in music. This doesn't sound altogether like a Fiona Apple song to me - it sounds like the Producer's song. Not that it's a bad thing; the production has a lot of endearing elements. However, I hate the feeling that I'm not listening to the artist's complete vision - it bothers me and takes away from the overall experience. Regardless, "Sleep To Dream" is strong enough to set a standard for the rest of the album (as all good opening tracks should).
It's worth mentioning that Apple has the necessary pedigree to succeed as an overly emotional singer songwriter: showbiz parents, her much talked about rape, and a bevy of apparently worthless ex-boyfriends. I'll admit I resisted the strong urge to fast forward through a lot of the slower, piano and voice oriented tracks, as I usually find these types of songs dreadfully boring. There is a caveat, and this will probably define Apple in the next few years - her voice really carries the slower numbers.
The players on Tidal are excellent. The backdrop to Apple's voice is impeccable and surprisingly intricate for the type of music. They say Apple played piano on the album. If this is true she's a damned good player - I'll leave it at that. Van Dyke Parks, who did the instrumental arrangements, deserves special attention. His arrangement gives Tidal's backing tracks a unique flavor among the recent rash of female oriented confessional albums. Interesting groups of woodwinds and strings appear and vanish; this establishes a dream-like quality that maintains the atmosphere throughout. And this is where Tidal completely succeeds: it takes a listener to another place and keeps them there with its wonderful consistency in production.
Another strong track (and single), "Criminal" is a favorite. Since this song displays all the elements of a classic (excellent music, catchy melody, and characteristic vocals) I can listen multiple times in one sitting. A thought occurred that more songs in this vein, where Apple plays the part of a heartbreaker rather than a victim, would make for a more interesting sequence.
An interesting tune worth noting is "First Taste". Despite the obvious Sade' influence, the song takes off into Apple's vision of a romance (I think...the lyrics are less than illuminated). Her voice is gorgeous here, and mixes well with the samba beat behind her. "Carrion" is another tune with a strong melody. Unfortunately the chorus is extremely forced, to the point of being overly contrived.
Although I now fast-forward often while listening to Tidal, I think it's a worthwhile investment if only to hear Apple sing. And the fact is, as much as I want to maintain my rocker façade, I do listen to it often. It bothers me (but it doesn't keep me up at night) that an artist feels she has to dictate rebellion to her fans (which is utterly ridiculous - that's assuming people still think on their own). Maybe Apple knows something I don't. She does have a lot of fans to deal with. And that, I think, says it all.