Review Summary: "Call me crazy! Hold me down! Make me cry! Get off now baby!"
The first time I ever heard this album was in a car. Even though the car wasn't running and I was starting to lose consciousness from the rising heat, I was unable to escape the entrancement that "When the Pawn" had put my young and formative mind into. I was initially impressed by the sheer complexity of each song on the album, with its thick layers of keyboards and percussive noises and, shortly afterwards, the lyrics grabbed me. Fiona Apple is just so sharp and quick-witted especially on songs like "Fast As You Can" where she crams in line after line of pure genius and, being an up and coming pianist at the time, I was truly impressed by her compositions and the many twist and turns of her song structures.
Fiona Apple has said herself that drums are her favorite things and that the real reason that she loves the piano is because of its percussive qualities. Basically, she just likes beating out her aggression on the keys. Her percussive playing style is really something special though, seriously. She really allowed her emotions (anger) and her spirit instrument (the keyboards), if you will, to be at one with each other which is no small feat by any means and is not a common gift among instrumentalists.
"On the Bound" is such a strong album opener and one of Apple's greatest accomplishments. Despite the simple chorus with Fiona growling "You're all I need" over and over, it is such a great and catchy chorus with some of the most genuine anger you will ever have enter your ears. This song seems to be about love, yet it is described in a way that only Fiona could put it into words. I imagine this song could've been the anthem for crazy, bipolar people with relationship issues back in the late nineties. The song eventually ends with a two-and-a-half minute musical outro which I think of as the audible lovechild of Fiona and Jon Brion.
I love that Fiona put the Urban Dictionary to use on this album, because to hear the sweet little angsty girl that wrote Tidal furiously yell profanities at the top of her lungs all the way through this album is such a treat. Known for being an exceptionally angry singer/songwriter, Apple finally learned that a nice F-bomb can really enhance her already feisty songs such as "Get Gone". But really, it shows maturation on Apple's part because she learned not to care whether people think she's smart or sophisticated. There are no signs of editing or forced lyricism like there was on Tidal. Apple could be in no better artistic shape than she was for her 1999 magnum opus. Thank god for Fiona Apple, or rather thank Maya Angelou.
Complexity is key for this kind of music. Whereas minimalism had been controlling the scene at the time of When the Pawn's release, Fiona proved that there was still a next level to minimalism. No, this music isn't the absolute most complex music of all. But if you take the lyrics, the compositions, and Fiona's crazy powerful alto and add them all together, you will have quite the finished product.