I was in the unique position of never having heard of Jon Brion before and never having listened to Fiona Apple. Then, in one quick evening, I saw them both on a small stage at the Largo in Los Angeles. Mr. Brion blew my mind, and I completely fell in love with Ms. Apple.
This weekend I bought my first Fiona Apple CD: "When the Pawn" because it was $4.99 instead of $7.99, I'd heard a less-than-stellar review of the Brion-stripped "Extraordinary Machine," and I judged "Tidal" based on the cover as looking too new and popular.
The album is both super Jon-Brion-y and very Fiona-Apple-y. I can picture her tugging on her scarf, weaving a little from side to side, whacking herself in the thigh, and making other jerky motions while she belts out the lyrics. But I think Jon Brion and his "all other instruments" are the star. I'd be interested in stripping the album of all lyrics and just bouncing around the house to the Jon Brion I love, because, you see, this is not the Fiona Apple I fell in love with.
When I was introduced to her, she sang sweetly the jazz standards and gospel-style classics that showed off her incredible range and sugary voice that match her petite size and soft, cotton dress. I don't think she's as lovely when she belts out forceful bitterness and frustration.
I'm certainly not an expert, but I can tell without a doubt (and this is the important part) that "When the Pawn" is good. It's just not as enjoyable as I had hoped.
I'm listening to it again now with less going on around me and no conversation to distract me, and I still feel mostly the same way. I can appreciate the complexities of her voice more, but overall, I'm still a little disappointed. I can't decide if she'll actually make it into my favorite-ladies music collection. May the Fiona Apple lovers forgive me, but she'll probably be filed elsewhere -- somewhere between "I'm Feeling Angsty; Let's Listen to This" and "A Darn Good Work of Art Worth Keeping Around."
What I want from Fiona (and I'd buy several copies -- one for myself, and others for friends and family) is an album chock-full of jazz classics or soulful gospel tunes. And yes, Jon Brion should be there, too.
I'm still in love, I think. We're just going through a rough patch.