Fiona Apple’s surprise LP marks a return after an 8 year gap between albums. It is a percussive, complex, and technically superb album that was produced in Apple’s home, often using iPhone recordings and GarageBand. Spontaneity drives the core of the album; you can hear the songs evolving as you listen. This is intentionally unintentional, during the album’s production Apple stresses that she focused on letting the songs develop during the recording process. Choosing to let improvisation fill in the missing space and working with the music rather than planning it all down to the nth degree. Her poetic and sharp lyricism binds the whole experience together, in a whirl of rhythm, melody and powerful honesty.
The album opens with the powerful, storming track, “I Want You To Love Me”, driven by a piano part that swells and shifts in a hypnotic fashion. Apple broods on the passing of time and the need to be loved, before letting the song unravel towards a bizarre frenzied conclusion. On the next track, the stand-out “Shameika”, Apple begins to explore themes relating to her relationship with women in her life, as she sings passionately about feelings of isolation and being bullied in school, but as the chorus hits, Apple affirms in a moment of calm, “Shameika said I had potential”. This reflects an actual interaction that Fiona had when she was in middle school where a classmate, and namesake of the song, reached out to her. The song ponders how this interaction impacted Fiona and reflects on how help can arrive in unexpected circumstances.
The title track explores the central theme of the album, which as Apple puts it is, “Fetch the f******* bolt cutters and get yourself out of the situation that you’re in — whatever it is that you don’t like”. With stripped back instrumentation and a passionate, charismatic performance Apple invites the listener to sit down and examine the bad situations in our lives and encourages us to break free. This is also explored in the defiant and playful “Under the Table”.
The haunting yet rousing track, “Newspaper” delves into how shared yet private pain can evoke feelings of closeness while it can also lead to feelings of isolation, as Apple lays bare the way in which the man in the song has created division between herself and another woman. This is accompanied by abrasive drums and powerful vocals, the instrumental and melody refusing to stand still. Continuing with themes of division is the stellar “Ladies”, where Apple tackles the ways in which women are pitted against each other by men, particularly in the case of infidelity. Examining how blame and negative emotions are often not directed at the man who cheated, but at who he was cheating with. The use of repetition and the ever diverse intonations on the word ladies, give the impression that Apple is bringing you in and sitting you down for a chat and perhaps an intervention
Throughout its runtime, Apple deals with situations and feelings that are sensitive for people and often can hit too close to home. With a fine lens Apple reflects the nature of the world we find ourselves in. This is hugely apparent in the uncompromising “For Her”. It is a tale of a woman who has been a victim of sexual assault but the man who abuses her does not see it as abuse. Rationalizing his actions and claiming to be defending them from other dangers, leading the abused to question their own feelings. Discussing the song, Apple said she wanted “primary colors. I don’t want any half measures.” choosing to be literal and specific as she felt “it’ll be important to the people it matters to.” These choices pay off in an affecting and powerful song that leaves no punch pulled.
Other tracks continue to delve deep, “Heavy Balloon” is a stormer of a song, with its brash rhythm section and sauntering vocal performance that, much like the title track from John Martin’s ‘Solid Air’, ruminates on the feeling of weight that bears down on people with depression. The chorus is a roaring affirmation that Apple will be alright, likening herself to the way that plants can store energy and release, spreading throughout a garden. Similarly, the track “Cosmonauts”, which had originally been penned for Judd Apatow movie, This is 40,but did not appear on the soundtrack, grapples with the possibility and impossibility of monogamy. Locking the characters in the song in a small space vessel and putting their friction and their love on display, while the chorus latches onto the feelings of hope for the relationship.
The album is kind, brutal and exceedingly honest. It is a record of revelation and exploration, which asks us to pull back the covers and examine the life and situations that surround us, leading to absorbing listening. Pairing these themes with great songwriting, crisp production and superb vocal performances, Fiona Apple has created an inventive and earnest record that will stay glued to my mind for the foreseeable future.
Now available to borrow from the Rory Gallagher Music Library and to stream and download on Freegal, using your library membership: https://corkcitylibraries.freegalmusic.com/
By John Hayes