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Starting Point
Released: 1996

1) Sleep To Dream  2) Sullen Girl  3) Shadowboxer  4) Criminal  5) Slow Like Honey  6) The First Taste  7) Never Is A Promise  8) The Child Is Gone  9) Pale September  10) Carrion


Yeah…that’s right...Fiona Apple.  What do you want me to say?  Based on the other artists I have reviewed on this site, I tend to feel most comfortable listening to people that are slightly crazy, and she absolutely fits the bill.  Plus, I’m a sucker for lyrics, and she is an excellent lyricist.  Not only that, but I love songs about heartbreak, and I don’t think there is a song in her catalog that isn’t about a breakup.  But the single most important reason why I am reviewing Fiona Apple is that she is a good songwriter…Very good actually.


Born in New York in 1977 as the daughter of a jazz singing mom and long time television actor Brandon Maggart, Apple grew up on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.  This seemingly dreamlike childhood wasn’t.  She was sent to see a psychiatrist at age eleven because she confessed to a friend that she was going to kill herself and her sisiter.  To make matters nearly unbearable, she was also raped at the age of twelve by an intruder that broke into her apartment building.  As a coping method to deal with her rape, she became anorexic to try and rid herself of a reason for men to want her, and virtually cut herself off from any would be friends at school. 


Battling these and other issues (apparently she practiced masochism techniques as well, and her parents divorced and lived on separate coasts), Apple took solace in playing the piano and writing songs, making a demo using a tape recorder propped up next to her piano.  The tape was heard by a record executive at a Christmas Party in 1993 and Fiona was signed right there.  She was given time to develop and moved to LA after she left school to begin recording “Tidal” for a 1996 release.               


As soon as the album opens it is obvious that Apple isn’t a Jewel or Alanis Morissette wanna-be.  It is clear that her influences go back to a different time and a different style.  Her music isn’t 1990s pop, but instead a strange blend of Broadway and Jazz, with a little Carol King or Joni Mitchell thrown in.  Her voice also separates her from the Nineties acts she is lumped in with…there is just something more behind her deep tone…something not quite right for someone so young.  So much hate, but so vulnerable at the same time.  Each of the tunes on her debut album is a piano based and slow moving, and most are so compellingly painful that I find myself just drawn to them…


The two standout tracks were both big hits that really made the album known: “Shadowboxer” and “Criminal.”  The former is very representative to the sound of the entire record with its smooth, nightclub feel and fascinating lyrics.  Dealing with a relationship that just won’t end, Apple performs one of the most delicate and honest lovesick songs I’ve heard.  The orchestration and background, “producer” touches only add to the mood, and really do enhance the song, and the entire record.  The latter is far more pop than most of the rest of the album, but rules all the same.  Made famous by the 1970s-style porn video, “Criminal” could have stood alone.  It is harsh, honest, and instantly ear catching.  Far faster paced than the rest of the record, it is the main reason Apple became a star as she won a Grammy, MTV’s Best New Artist, VH1’s Most Stylish Video, and was named Rolling Stone’s Female Performer of the Year in 1997 all based largely on the success of “Criminal.”        


Don’t think that those two tracks are the only reason to buy the album though.  You want coming of age piano ballads with New York style; listen to “Sullen Girl” or “The Child Is Gone.”  You want slightly more sinister, almost haunting tunes; try “Sleep To Dream” or “Pale September.”  The only major misstep on the record is “The First Taste.”  This is just a failed attempt at something different, and its samba type feel is out of place and lame.      


The remaining three songs are each excellent.  Slow Like Honey” is best described by its lyrics: “Slow like honey; heavy with mood.”  Apple packs so much emotional punch behind this jazzy tune that it really does leave me feeling a little empty.  Likewise, “Never Is A Promise” is heartbreaking.  Call me a wuss if you want, but when Apple’s voice breaks at the end, as the song’s sentiments overtake her, I’m right there with her, pissed that some boy could do that to her.  The closing “Carrion” is something else entirely.  As different in style as “Criminal,” this tune is chic and stylish at the beginning, losses its charm in the chorus, but ultimately is successful because of its smooth flair.        


Overall, "Tidal" is a captivating debut album with an unusual sound.  Her lyrics and voice show that Apple has the potential to become a major songwriter.  This album might not be groundbreaking, but it is evidence of a notable talent; talent that would come of age on her follow up record.

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