The Peak of the Week on WNCW this evening was Fiona Apple’s “Extraordinary Machine,” so the album was played in its entirety on the air tonight. Born in 1977, Apple dropped out of high school at sixteen to move to L.A. and seek a record label. Within two years she was signed by Sony and her first album, “Tidal,” went platinum in 1995.
Kurt Cobain had been dead for one year and the grunge movement in the Pacific Northwest (my native land) was falling apart like knitting off its needles. There was no consensus, no one as innovative and mystical as Cobain to stitch the seams of a broken generation back together. Apple flowed through the airwaves like LSD through the tongue, ZAP! Her voice was luscious and deeply sexy, with a hint of sandpaper huskiness to mark her style. Her lyrics were all story and emotion, pounding and ferocious, bringing mature relevance to the struggles of adolescent love and hate.
At the time, one of my favorite pastimes was taking a slow drive around the West Hills outside of Portland, rain pounding on my little old Plymouth like an old friend at my door. Lucy and I would puff away on our Marlboro Lights to Apple’s odes and sometimes we wouldn’t even talk at all. It was enough to be together and share the thickness of our equally clouded minds; Apple’s lyrics were all we needed. She always smoked twice as much as I did, and later on I would quit, keep playing sports, become a teacher, and face my own demons of stress and health problems. She cheated on boys left and right like her father had done to her mother, then moved to L.A. and became a biker psychologist. By then she had switched from Lights to Marb Reds.
Fiona’s latest album rivals her first two, and is still within her distinct style. Her percussive piano playing is more daring and evident, and at times this marks the profoundness of her songs. At other times, the unpredictable nature of this style works to her disadvantage. The subject matter is still the same: pain, love, self-analysis, and men in general. But there is a new maturity to her questioning and I find it comforting that she, now twenty-nine, appears to have a lot of the same questions I do. Ever human and raw, this album is also likely to go platinum.