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CD Reviews: Review of Extraordinary Machine by Fiona Apple
Thompson Home / CD Reviews Home / Entertainment Channel / Entertainment Web Guide

Click here to buy yourself a copy from Amazon.com Fiona Apple: Extraordinary Machine (Clean Slate/Epic 2005)

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You know the story, right? Fiona Apple had this album ready to go with an original mix and performance produced by Jon Brion, and the suits at Sony didn’t want it, saying it wasn’t commercial enough. It’s strange how the biz works. Apple has always been a person who could rely on sheer artistry rather than chart positions, and it says a lot about the system and how fucked up and clueless it really is when Fiona had the best album of her career and Sony dropped the ball. No matter, for the original version is still easily available through all the usual downloading outlets.

So some fans may bitch due to the given rating of the official version of Extraordinary Machine with its all new and (mostly) re-recorded Mike Elizondo production. Well, that’s too bad, really. It’s still an excellent piece of work, right up there with When The Pawn... and certainly as eerie sounding as that one, too. I see it simply as getting a long-awaited fantastic album in two very different, yet complementary versions. So enough with the bitching already, and just enjoy.

Probably the most dramatic change here is in Apple’s wondrous song “Please Please Please,” that closed the Brion album and is now track nine on the official release. It was a thuinderous piano stomper, with stop-start refrains and a rather unveiled message about the biz and how shitty it can all truly be. Now, it has been softened with an electric piano as the main instrument, but it’s no less dramatic and has a really bizarre sounding middle thrown in consisting of wordless vocals and those catchy chords that make either version single-worthy.

“Get Him Back” bites equally hard on both versions. It’s classic Fiona railing against some dude that done her wrong, all shiny fangs a-la When The Pawn… and none of the lopsided delivery that marred Tidal. The title track is also one that stands equal, probably because it wasn’t messed with. It’s a bit of a spare showtune-esque piece that opens on the same sort of dark optimism that Apple’s previous album closed upon. Whereas on the Brion album, it appeared later on in the track listing, here it’s at the very front, making a tasty intro to the beauty just beyond.

“Better Version of Me” is one track where the Brion album may have just a bit of an edge. On that version, the song seemed to bounce around a little more proudly, whereas on the official release, it’s just a little more toned down. However, “O’Sailor” and “Oh Well” are equally brilliant, whichever way you hear them, both songs offering up versions of those characters and relationships we can sometimes have that make us think differently about ourselves, for better or worse.

And then there’s “Parting Gift,” featuring Apple alone on her piano, singing a song to another ex-love in that perfect way she so often does. She details the verses about opening her eyes while being kissed and taking off her glasses while being yelled at so the other person couldn’t see her reacting, then regrets it, singing how she should’ve put them back on. It’s a strange little song about the mundane things, but made brilliant by Apple’s way with words and a melody that makes it the gem of the album.

So take Extraordinary Machine in whichever dose you like. It is nice to finally hear this album in an opened up, full-on stereo mix (the Brion version, while brilliant, seems to have only been leaked in a rather cramped mono mixdown), but there are pleasures in the Jon Brion mix that aren’t repeated in the Elizondo version, and vice versa. It’s all a matter of taste, and frankly I like both. Either way, it’s nice to have Fiona back at long last, and here’s hoping the suits won’t be so damn deaf when she’s ready to deliver the next one.   

~Jason Thompson 


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