Fiona Apple, 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 No Body 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

Fiona Apple, 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 No Body 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

The most remarkable thing about Fiona Apple’s latest, verbosely-titled album isn’t the speed at which she engendered such a remarkable maturity (after all, Joni Mitchell blossomed from pretty good folkie to peerless soul-drenching singer-songwriter in the course of three years, the same amount of time between Tidal and this CD), it’s the age at which Apple has achieved it. Making her name with an album that had more going for it than against it (but was hardly the masterpiece some folks claimed) at an age when Christina Aguilera just wants to tell us what a girl wants, Fiona Apple had all the earmarks of too-much-too-soon, with a dash of high school lit-mag thrown in.

It’s that last bit that had folks like me worried, and choosing a now-famously long title for her follow up album didn’t exactly rid Apple of the stench of overweening pretension (nor did highly-publicized meltdowns and pouting fits). But I’ll come right out and admit it: I blinked first. The 8-line poem of a title (which certainly beats anything Jewel’s ever written, hands down) makes perfect sense to me, coming off as something of a cracked mission statement that seems completely loopy on first glance but crystallizes on closer inspection into a display of remarkable confidence and focus. The whole album falls into place from there, starting with the bass-heavy gallop of “On The Bound” (the only track that sounds even remotely like anything in producer Jon Brion’s past) and carrying through to the serene and understanding (and cautiously optimistic!) closer “I Know” with not a single bad song in between.

More than anything, it seems that Fiona’s been strengthened by finding her voice in both senses of the term. I was no big fan of her version of “Across The Universe” from last year (I’m too wedded to the original), but hearing it now, as a stepping stone from the sub-Toriisms of Tidal to the post-Joni wonderland of When The Pawn Hits The Conflicts He Thinks Like A King (my preferred shortening of the title), it makes perfect sense. It takes a degree of confidence to take on any Beatles song at all, but latching onto one that would be recognized primarily by avid Beatlefans demands a steadfast determination and a willingness to take lumps both merited and not. Instrumentally, Apple didn’t do much more than add atmosphere (the song’s really too simple to withstand much messing around without falling apart), but her vocals added a new jazz influence, playing around with the melody and the rhythm.

When The Pawn Hits The Conflicts He Thinks Like A King takes that as a launching pad and adds to it a musical and lyrical complexity to match. That “Fast As You Can” was released as the heraldic single from the album is shocking, considering that the drums skitter along so quickly that the rest of the band has to strain to play catch-up (which is why Apple added the midsection tempo changeup, to give everybody a chance to breathe before taking off like a shot again) while Apple curls her lyrics (warning a potential beau away from the nutcase that is she) around a vocal line that seems to unravel more and more with each successive verse; she might as well be scatting her repetition of the word “again” in the final verse. That the emasculating and fierce “Limp” was released as the second single I chalk up to someone at Sony hoping to grab listeners by shocking them with a graphic image (an increasingly common, and depressing, tactic these days), as well as the fact that it may well be the track that sounds the least musically out of place on the radio.

I probably shouldn’t be so cynical, though, since Apple’s muses may not have given her label many options (the album’s opening song has a chorus that declares “You’re all I need” while the singer sounds tormented beyond belief just by making such an admission). The second best song on the album is the playful “Paper Bag,” in which Apple’s jazz-inflected vocals register disappointment in finding out that some things in life (and some people) aren’t nearly as deep as they first appear (“I was staring at the sky, just looking for a star… I thought he was a man but he was just a little boy”). The best song is “Get Gone,” about the aftermath of heartbreak and a song that focuses primarily (but by no means exclusively) on the internal workings of the narrator rather than the rat-bastardness of the antagonist (unlike, say, “You Oughtta Know”). The music starts out delicate, with Apple’s piano eking out a simple and effective figure that sets the tone without calling attention to itself, and then builds in intensity as she tries to make sense of the roiling emotions let loose by the realization that the romance in question was not nearly as important to the other person. When she tosses off, almost resignedly, “fuckin’ go” before the second prechorus, it’s provoked not by anger but by dismissal, and it gains so much weight from everything that happens just before it and everything that immediately follows that these two little words become the pivot around which the whole album spins.

If Apple still invites naysayers in and delivers them handwrapped presents, she’s much more inured to it; she may be spitting the line “You fondle my trigger, then you blame my gun” as much at her critics as at an ex-lover. Then again, considering her own tendency to provoke negative responses, she herself may be the target of her own vitriol, but it ultimately doesn’t matter. She may still be a half-cocked lit fuse (a mixed metaphor, but an apt one), but the lyrics and performances on this album bespeak a woman now graduated from her teenage years (even if only barely), fresh from being burned but now mature enough to place it into a greater context. Behind the title poem, Apple is smiling on the cover, and she has absolutely earned it. Tidal told us what Fiona Apple could do. When The Pawn Hits The Conflicts He Thinks Like A King does it.

(Clean Slate/Epic Records; )
BUY ME: Amazon

Review by . Review posted Sunday, October 1st, 2000. Filed under Reviews.

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