Sunday, September 29, 2013

Song #370 of 9999 - Criminal by Fiona Apple

Song #370 of 9999

Title: Criminal
Artist: Fiona Apple
Year: 1996
Album: Tidal

After 15+ years, I guess the verdict is in on Fiona Apple. In 1996, 18-year-old Apple showed up seemingly out of nowhere and seemingly fully-formed as an artist. Comparisons to Nina Simone were probably fair in retrospect but the controversial video for "Criminal"—featuring Apple as a scantily clad waïf rolling around on a bed, the floor, the back seat of a car—created some confusion about her artistic endeavors even as it was making her a star.

But Tidal has much more in common with records by Simone or (the future) Tori Amos or Ani DiFranco than it does with those of Madonna (a fellow floor-writher) or Alanis Morisette (an occasional comparison). A quick look at her "related artists" on Spotify produces a list of singers who weren't even around in 1996 which probably supports the theory that Fiona Apple was more than meets the eye.

"Criminal" may not be the best example of Apple's early work but it is the big hit and this post is about first impressions. So are there any signs of Apple's unique talent in this chart-topper? I would start by recognizing the arrangement, particularly the prominent use of flutes early in the track and strings during the second verse and chorus. During the bridge, horns are added to support a powerful vocal performance. But the real treat comes during the outro at 4:06 where we're rewarded for our patience (the track is long!) with Apple's head voice ad libs and some choice piano banging amidst flute dissonance. The last 90 seconds are as important to me as her stellar vocal performance. And if you happen to have the album playing, it prepares you for the excellent ballad ("Slow Like Honey") that follows where we get a clearer sense of her jazz leanings.

See you tomorrow in 2006.

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