When The Pawn...
Clean Slate / Epic Records, 1999
REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/10/2000
Fiona Apple's "rant" on the MTV Video Music Awards a couple of years ago was one of the most laughable, sorry and just plain ridiculous cases of overreaction to an artist who speaks their mind. I mean, come on, what really did she say when she was at the podium? Value individuality, don't pay too much attention to beauty standards that you couldn't possibly live up to, don't let artists dictate your value system.
Yup, I could see where people thought she was waaaay out of line. All of those things she said were very controversial. Come on folks, it's not like she tore the picture of the pope up on the podium. But somehow, at that instant, she was cast as an outsider. Just get that second album out of the way, get that buried and Apple will go the way of the Crash Test Dummies.
Actually, that senario would work if she released a weak album. But just to piss off her naysayers, Apple released an album that almost eclipses her very good Tidal album. When The Pawn... finds Apple going back to the artists she can most identify with.
Be it contemporaries like Ani Difranco or gritty, lonely jazz singers of the '20s and '30s, When The Pawn... ignores any set pattern. Like any good, self-revealing album, you get the indication that Apple used certain instrumentation because they had to be played, not because they would sound good on top 40 radio.
"On The Bound" and "To Your Love" kick off the album with a warm, textured feel of a well-crafted jazz release. The low-end notes on the piano and Apple's deep voice pack such a luster kick that the album feels most at home in your pad with a couple of candles flickering.
Don't expect to see Apple perched on a baby grand ala Michelle Pfeiffer in The Fabulous Baker Boys, however. In "To Your Love," Apple veers dangerously close to sounding like she's listened to a bit too much PJ Harvey. But "Limp" kicks Apple right back her rock groove.
Midway through the album, Apple does not let up. "Paper Bag" and the trippy "Mistake" show that her vision is still very much in the '90s. And "Fast As You Can" has a great driving beat to it, thanks partially to some frantic guitar picking.
"Get Gone" and "I Know" close the album, both songs dealing with romantic longing and lonliness. For someone who hasn't even turned 25 yet, Apple sounds like she's gone through enough bad relationships and faded friendships to last up until someone's first mid-life crisis.
But When The Pawn... is definitely not a "feel sorry for me" album. Throughout the album, Apple points the finger at herself just as much as she does for anyone that has smitten her. And credit must go to producer Jon Brion. For all of Apple's bemoaning, the music keeps us riveted.
When The Pawn... is Apple's version of Sheryl Crow. Both artists were in a position where people were ready to dump both of them in the recycled bins and hop onto the next artist who were a bit friendlier to the ears. But both released an album that was both very personal and very good musicially. Sorry folks, Apple is here for a while. And looking at the Top 10 for the past few months, I couldn't be more happy that she's here.