Forgive Me, Fiona

Soundbites changes its tune.

Fiona Apple House of Blues Monday
Fiona: All grown up - and Extraordinary.
Fiona: All grown up and Extraordinary.
Dear Ms. Apple,

Okay, so I'm not real good at apologies. I get a lot of things wrong -- you should see my haircut -- and I'm afraid that I haven't been entirely fair to you over the years. And by "fair," I mean refraining from calling you a pretentious brat whose navel is deeper than her tunes.

But more on that later.

I tried to get you on the phone to explain where I'm coming from, but you were too busy, so I'm writing you this letter instead. Here goes.

Fiona, I've put a lot of effort into hating you. On the long list of stuff I can't stand, you were once positioned between food poisoning and proctologists with poor depth perception.

At first, it was kinda easy to dislike you. After all, you gotta admit, you rubbed a lot of people the wrong way when you first shot to stardom in the mid-'90s. Granted, you were only 19 when your debut, Tidal, came out, and everyone's a little precocious at that age. But when you shared your relationship woes, your lyrics tended to be particularly overwrought and naive. I mean, c'mon, you don't ask a nun for directions to the porn shop, and you don't look to a moody teen for advice on the labors of love. You sang, "It's calm under the waves, in the blue of my oblivion." Dunno what any of that means, but I've seen better prose scribbled above the urinals at BW3.

You were once pretty temperamental and cross, like a toddler sporting loaded Huggies. You went off on that infamous tirade back at the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards. "This world is bullshit," you graciously announced as you accepted the Best New Artist trophy, extolling the virtues of the "fake" entertainment industry in a move as dignified as Jamiroquai.

And then you had another public meltdown in 2000 at a gig in New York, where sound problems caused you to burst into tears and storm off the stage -- but not before you ordered all the journalists in the house not to write a bad review.

Then you pretty much disappeared for five years. You told The New York Times that you spent your downtime whittling in your backyard, "making little pine-cone people with a razor blade." Yes, it's pretty kick-ass that we share the same hobby, but that's not why our opinion of you has changed.

No, your latest record, Extraordinary Machine, is what's won us over. The album's an imaginative pastiche of off-kilter torch songs and quirky cabaret numbers. It's one of the most distinctive records of the year, with your breathy alto wrapping itself around burping pump organ, airy flutes, and squawking saxophone. You sound as if you're smiling through half the album, your newly dainty voice high-stepping through tunes reminiscent of old-fashioned children's songs.

But what really sets this album apart from your other ones is that you've infused your songs with a wry sense of humor in a way that you've never done before. At times, you're funny and self-deprecating. "I'm so tired of crying/You'd think I was a siren," you announce on "Please Please Please," deflating the spite that used to color your tunes. You're not as willfully verbose here either -- you don't feel the need to constantly demonstrate your literary flair. It's a much more complete portrait of you, and it feels more authentic than your past works.

Best of all, you formally bid adieu to the sullen girl you used to be. "I am likely to miss the main event if I stop to cry and complain again," you sing on "Better Version of Me." "So I will keep a deliberate pace/Let the damned breeze dry my face."

Man, what welcome poise. In the past, you clung to misery as if it were a life raft. But you've moved on, so I'm sorry for calling you names all these years. And I apologize for insinuating that I'd rather feed my cat into a paper-shredder than listen to your albums. I'm actually looking forward to your show at the House of Blues this Monday, and, unlike in the past, I'm not going in hopes of another public meltdown. I know you're over that stuff. You've really grown up. And so now, I guess it's my turn.


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