Sunday, April 1, 2012

April 1: Fiona Apple, "On The Bound"

Artist: Fiona Apple
Song: "On The Bound"
Album: When The Pawn...
Year: 1999

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The mid to late 1990's saw a massive influx of female singer-songwriters into the forefront of the worldwide music scene. With the rise of things like "Lilith Fair," upfront and honest female musicians were more in demand than any other time in the history of music. While in many ways, this caused there to be a great number of seemingly "copycat" artists, there were a handful who rose above the rest and created sensational records. Among this group of superior artists was a young girl from New York City by the name of Fiona Apple McAfee Maggart. After her brilliant, and somewhat controversial 1996 debut, Tidal, Apple seemed as if she would be content to be a darker, edgier version of Tori Amos. However, three years later, she buried the memory of her debut with her far more sophisticated and musically ambitious follow-up, 1999's 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'll Know Where to Land and If You Fall It Won't Matter, Cuz You Know That You're Right.  The album showed a far greater display of the range of her abilities, and few songs better define Fiona Apple than the records' lead track, "On The Bound."

In many ways, Apple's own piano playing takes a backseat to the large musical picture around her, which enabled her to become more than "just a girl and her piano" as is found on her debut record. In combination with this fact, the orchestrations of John Bainbridge are one of the key aspects that takes "On The Bound" to the next level, and it quickly sets the tone for the entire album.  Bringing in a number of violinists, as well as viola's, cello's, and a number of woodwinds, the song has a far more mature and complex sound, whilst simultaneously retaining the "edge" that gained Apple much of her following. Aside from Apple herself, the only other returning musician from her first album is drummer, Matt Chamberlain. Having worked with everyone from Peter Gabriel to The Wallflowers to Pearl Jam, Chamerlain would go on to work with Tori Amos on every one of her albums since 1998. His steady, swinging feel on drums gives the song a very distinctive feel, and he is as much of a key to the albums' success as anyone else. The song itself dips and dives, featuring a number of different funky ways; and it is this far more full and complex arrangement that shows how much she had progressed as a musician.  It is also in this musical diversity that the true talent of Apple shines, as her singing and lyrics blend perfectly into this seemingly new style, presenting an amazing musical range that was absent from her debut, and this larger sonic delivery would become the key to the impact of the entire record.

Even with the amazing musicians accompanying her and the fresh, grooving sound on "On The Bound," Fiona herself is always the core of the music. Her voice runs the entire vocal range, though she tends to spend most of her singing where she is best; in the moody, lower octaves, where her strong, often sultry voice can shine. It is very much in her tone and delivery where Apple retains much of her "darker" and "edgier" mood and persona. Also intact is the overall jazzy, funky mood that made her debut record so fantastic; but "On The Bound" pushes the sound further, exploring the possibilities of the fusion at every turn. Taking all this into account, the one thing that always set Fiona Apple apart from her peers was, and always will be, her lyrics. Few artists in history have been as honest and soul bearing, and her raw lyrics are one of the key aspects that made so many people relate to her and embrace her music. "On The Bound" furthers and tops the emotionally open journey that began with her debut, as Apple presents stunning wordplay that are is amazingly introspective, yet far more confident than those lyrics found on Tidal. As has always been the case, a majority of Fiona's lyrics revolve around the relationships between men and women, and in this case, she may be offering he most concise and insightful musings on the politics and destructive nature of human interaction.  Quite literally, every line on "On The Bound" is fantastic, featuring an amazing combination of mood and lyrics, and it is mostly due to the maturity and bravery of Fiona herself that makes this song so special and superb.

Proving that jazz-style, bluesy singing was not a lost art, Fiona Apple burst onto the scene in the mid 1990's and paved the way for artists like Jennifer Franklin and Dido. Taking her own influence from artists ranging from Chrissie Hynde to Billie Holiday, the sheer talent and moods created by Apple set her far apart from her peers and made her music more than just a passing fad. Taking the honest, somewhat dusky mood of her debut record and crafting far more complex musical pieces around it, her sophomore album is leaps and bounds ahead, in terms of both musical content, as well as length of album title. While the first time around, she created waves with her risqué video and unpredictable mood swings, with When The Pawn..., Apple lets the music itself do all of the talking, and it is an overall far more focused and complete record. Though little has been heard from Apple over the past few years, she did take a chance to record a handful of beautiful tracks with Johnny Cash before he passed away, as well as contributing original works to a number of soundtracks. With a trio of excellent records to her name, there are few artists of any time period who have written as candid and soul-bearing a set of lyrics as are found throughout all of the songs of Fiona Apple. Perfectly fusing together the sounds of blues and jazz, and overlaying it with a shadowy mood, as well as an undeniably sense of "hip," Fiona Apple's sophomore album, When The Pawn... is by far, her finest effort, and she outdid herself with the records' finest track, "On The Bound"

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