"When The Pawn..."
1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die
I would argue that there were two solo artists in the ‘90s that came to represent, albeit unconsciously through their passionate display of vitriol on behalf of wronged women everywhere, strong beacons of feminism. The one you’ve heard of is Alanis Morissette, and the one you’re better off having heard of is Fiona Apple. Morissette was raw power, but Apple managed to work in actual vocal talent and interesting instrumental arrangements along with her ire.
Perhaps even more relevant than Apple’s vocal ability is her sharp lyric-writing and grasp on the effect of moderation. Merely yelling at her subjects won’t do, therefore she humiliates them with snarky lines. Most notable for this aspect is the single “Limp,” in which she metaphorically relates the pathetic nature of a man with erectile dysfunction, telling him that once she’s gone “you’ll be lying limp in your own hand.” “Get Gone” demonstrates her modulation of mood, as she slides from enraged to gently and melodically singing over the bridge. No matter the volume, Apple always has the same attitude: cynical, often bitter. She lays off men for a couple tracks, lamenting her own status as “damaged goods.”
The background to her commentary also set her apart from Morissette. A mix-and-match background group, generally including several strings (violins, violas, cello, etc.), bassist and drummer are present in the majority of the album’s ten tracks. Occasional electric warbles (“A Mistake”) and other bit-players are thrown in to mix things up, but the general scheme sets the album apart from the majority of pop music.
Apple deserves a bit of instrumental credit herself, for her piano playing. Although it often plays second fiddle to the string section, the piano occasionally makes itself heard in a way that matches the emotions of the woman playing it. “Get Gone” opens with a slow, wistful piano line that correlates with Apple’s initial tone.
At the end of the day, Morissette’s sales dwarf those of Apple. In terms of the influence of both on future artists however, the score is much closer. For every Meredith Brooks, there is an Emilie Autumn, respectively.
INTERESTING FACT: Notice the ellipses in the title? The album’s full name is 90 words, which was a record when it was released in 1999. The current record is held by Chumbawumba, which released an 800-plus word title in a desperate attempt to stay relevant.