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Fiona Apple

Not exactly prolific since she exploded on to the scene in 1996, with only a handful of albums to her name – albeit with stretched-out titles on a few! – singer-songwriter FIONA APPLE is, however, a major star.
Born Fiona Apple McAfee Maggart, September 13, 1977, Manhattan, New York, her unmarried parents were separated when she was only four; her dad is actor Brandon Maggart. Raised most of her childhood by her jazz-loving mother Diana McAfee and her BEATLES-obsessed step-father, Fiona found solace in the poetry of Maya Angelou. However, more trauma was just around the corner when at the age of only 12, she was raped outside her mother’s apartment. Taking up singing as a way of channelling her emotions, Fiona was discovered by music publicist, Kathy Schenker (her babysitter at the time!), who sent her bedroom-cut demo on to Clean Slate Records boss, Andy Slater; the corporate Sony/Work bosses would subsequently give it backing.
In the heart of the summer of ‘96 and, after over 18 months in the making, APPLE’s debut album TIDAL {*7} reached the shops. Described as ALANIS MORISSETTE, Chrissie Hynde or LAURA NYRO with angst to spare, the impressive album subsequently caught the attention of the American buying public and finally crawled all the way up to No.15 in the charts. One of its highlights, the near Top 20 `Criminal’, took the Best Female Rock Performance Award at the 1998 Grammies, while another, `Sleep To Dream’, was released as a UK single.
At the turn of the century, Fiona was already setting new boundaries by coming up with her follow-up album, WHEN THE PAWN HITS THE CONFLICTS HE THINKS LIKE A KING WHAT HE KNOWS THROWS THE BLOWS WHEN HE GOES TO THE FIGHT AND HE’LL WIN THE WHOLE THING ‘FORE HE ENTERS THE RING THERE’S NOBODY TO BATTER WHEN YOUR MIND IS YOUR MIGHT SO WHEN YOU GO SOLO, YOU HOLD YOUR OWN HAND AND REMEMBER THAT DEPTH IS THE GREATEST OF HEIGHTS AND IF YOU KNOW WHERE YOU STAND, THEN YOU KNOW WHERE TO LAND AND IF YOU FALL IT WON’T MATTER, CUZ YOU’LL KNOW THAT YOU’RE RIGHT (1999) {*8} – phew! the longest album title ever (the full title taken from a poem). A discographer’s nightmare and a cheeky quizmaster’s delight no less.
Released early 2000 in Britain, the No.13 Billboard chart set didn’t have the same impact, although producer Jon Brion had garnered results from the youngest and most promising lady in recent years to grace the jazz-pop music world. A romantic liaison with Magnolia director, Paul Thomas Anderson, led her briefly into the world of soundtracks, but on album titles such as `Fast As You Can’ (a rare UK hit) and `Paper Bag’, she’d seduced leafy suburbanites to her musical lair.
In the ensuing saga of recording, EXTRAORDINARY MACHINE {*8}, unreleased – whether at the behest of Sony, or indeed APPLE herself – tracks found their way on to the internet, although the version which finally reached the shops in October 2005, had been completed by Mike Elizondo, finishing the production work that Brion had originally started. Given APPLE’s increasingly oblique, elongated style, a hit single was always unlikely, although the album itself reached the Top 10 – a personal best. Probably more in line with mainstream mistress NORAH JONES, class and jazz seemed to represent this set in spades. Not since BILLIE HOLIDAY, NINA SIMONE and CAROLE KING had popular music showcase an “extraordinary” talent such as Fiona, highlights coming in the shape of `Get Him Back’, `Better Version Of Me’ and `Waltz (Better Than Fine)’.
A perfectionist to the nth degree, six years turned into seven before her long-awaited, self-produced fourth set made it to the Top 10. THE IDLER WHEEL IS WISER THAN THE DRIVER OF THE SCREW AND WHIPPING CORDS WILL SERVE YOU MORE THAN ROPES WILL DO (2012) {*7} was almost as exhaustive to say as her album of a dozen years passed, but with co-producer/percussionist Charley Drayton in tow, she’d again mastered the art of contemporary cool. Sitting aside her trusty piano, Fiona took elements of Brill Building and soundtrack-jazz to a wider audience; best examples coming by way of `Periphery’, `Every Single Night’, `Werewolf’ and love song, `Jonathan’.
Eight years on from her Grammy Award winning Alternative Music Album (and notable contributions to respective works by WATKINS FAMILY HOUR and ANDREW BIRD sets), APPLE returned from her self-imposed exile to secure critical and commercial success on FETCH THE BOLT CUTTERS (2020) {*9}; Pitchfork handed the download-only set a rare 10/10. Indeed she’d refrained from burdening reviewers and fans with a long-winded title; confidently concentrating on her complex cathartic cuts to the quick. One song in particular, `For Her’ , demonstrated her disdain for the Republican Brett Kavanaugh’s controversial appointment to the Supreme Court, all in the wake of a historical sexual assault allegation by Christine Blasey Ford. Fiona’s recognisable piano flourishes had the desired effect on segued openers `I Want You To Love Me’ and `Shameika’, though most tracks featured her backing band: multi-instrumentalist David Garza, drummer Amy Aileen Wood and the stoic bassist Sebastian Steinberg for classy “cuts” `Under The Table’, `Relay’, `Rack Of His’ and the percussive title track.
© MC Strong 1998-2006/GRD / rev-up MCS Oct2013-Apr2020

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