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Apple picks up where she left off

Fiona Apple - Extraordinary Machine
(Epic/Clean Slate)
4 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Mar. 18, 2006
Fiona Apple

Review by Andy Argyrakis

The gap in between Fiona Apple's last official album and her latest Extraordinary Machine is nearly six years, a time period filled with ample amounts of self-examination and creative exploration. Though the singer/songwriter stayed away from the studio after a tour in support of 1999's When the Pawn..., she did continue to keep in touch with producer pal Jon Brion (Aimee Mann, Kanye West). By 2002 he coaxed her to Ocean Way studios, where sessions would sporadically prod on through 2003 with varying degrees of productiveness. And as legend has it, somehow those unfinished songs were leaked onto the internet much to the intrigue of fans and dismay of Apple. In fact, the occurrence caused so much stir and frustration that Apple almost withdrew from music entirely, totally scrapping those original tunes until producer and session man Mike Elizondo (Dr. Dre) convinced her otherwise.

As a result of so much time for incubation, faithful have been fawning over the final results since its late 2005 release, which continues to catch wind as Apple opens the spring 2006 leg of Coldplay's tour. The reasons are multiple, which go beyond the great length in between projects into the ability for these dozen tunes to ingeniously stand on their own two feet with attitude and assurance. Take for instance the first track she wrote for the record "Waltz (Better Than Fine)," a momentum building piano ballad supercharges by Apple's surreal vocals and a message about living in the moment. "Window" adapts a chunky instrumental underwriting beefed up with a brass section and loaded with lyrics of abundant wonder.

The title cut is the disc's most autobiographical, tracing Apple's many opinions of how she views herself depending on the moment. Standout lines like "I seem to you to seek a new disaster everyday" is particularly playful, especially to skeptical critics who made jabs at the whole internet debacle and re-recording process. "Better Version of Me" also offers an introspective look inside the tunesmith amidst piano chords that are much tougher than Tori Amos and more along the bouncy lines of Ben Folds. In the end, no matter what the subject or stylistic nuance, these and the plethora of other intelligent expressions prove that even in her lengthy absence, Apple hasn't skipped a beat.

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