Fiona Apple's debut "Tidal" was less than amazing. It failed to wow me. Its songs are all very nicely done, and some are some of her best, but when you listen to the album as a whole, you feel weighted under a giant grey block. It has a thick sameness.
But now, a few years later (I think she was 22 when this was released), Apple has come into full form. It was a little surprising when that 18 year old was so mature, but now she's evened herself out. And this is quite a remarkable album from someone who IS only 22.
The album kicks off with one of its best song, On The Bound. The instrumentation is magnificent, and Apple's vocals carry well throughout. She had this seductive, low voice like she always has had, but here for some reason it sounds grander. In a good way. In the chorus, she yells "You're all I need!" and you believe her. She says it with such intensity and emotion, you just want to scream back. Sometimes, I feel like she's singing to the listening. The fans. But, that may be far fetched.
The album's next 5 songs are all great, with special attention to "Limp" and "Paper Bag." "Limp" has a rattling percussion (note: the instrumental break) that really draws you in. And with lines like, "It won't be long ti you'll be lyin' limp in your own hand," how can you not be blown away. "Paper Bag" also has a nice beat, with some rather good lyrics. Here, as on many songs (including stand-out "On The Bound") she has a lot of lines where she almost runs out of air. This can be a turn off sometimes, but not here. It works here.
I do not like "Love Ridden" as much as the others. In fact, it is probably my least favorite. It seems empty. It seems unfinished. It contains beautiful piano work, and some nice vocals, but it just doesn't really seem to go anywhere.
Moving on... to "A Mistake." This is either the best or the worst song for people. It is one of my favorites, though. I like the beat and the music and the lyrics are very good. At times, this song can be a bit too teenagery for her, like a kid wanting to rebel ("Do I wanna do good? Of course. But do I really wanna feel I'm forced? Hell no.") But at the same time, I like that she is kind of rebelling against the music industry. ("Why can't a make a mistake?")
"Fast As You Can," the other fast-percussion track here, is also another stand-out. The video is superb, with her lips being just slightly out of sync throughout the entire clip. This really make you think of the title's name, and how she's going too fats for her own quickness. I do think she could have cut the long instrumental outro, and ended it abruptly like on "Limp," but it works as it is.
"The Way Things Are" isn't really a track that jumps out at me, it kind of runs along with a quirky melody. But "Get Gone" and "I Know" are fantastic, and wonderfully placed. "Get Gone" is a very angry song, and one of the only songs in Apple's catalog with some very foul language. Some may be turned off by this, and think it's useless. But I like it. Angst. But not teenage-angst. Anger. But not teenage-anger. Good anger. Release. And then calmed back down for the intimate piano-driven closer "I Know." The only problem I have with this song is that it sounds like she says "I'll know." It throws me off a bit, but her ultra-fast, sometimes shaky vibrato saves the day, especially in the priceless last line ("It's okay... you don't need to say it...)
Overall, When The Pawn...
is a magnificent album, and an unreal step forward from Tidal. It is better than it's successor, Extraordinary Machine. I think this is her best ever, and it is totally recommended. I hope she improves even more for her 4th release.
On The Bound
Fast as You can