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12 by Fiona Apple

12 by... aims to summarize an artist's career in 12 songs. This one features...
Five albums in 24 years is hardly prolific, but no one can accuse Fiona Apple of not making each one count! 

1. "Sleep To Dream" (from Tidal, 1996) The initial shocking thing about Fiona for me was not her lyrics or her underwear, but her voice. So throaty and soulful, and all the more shocking for her big-eyed waifish looks. 

2. "Criminal" (from Tidal, 1996) 
Yes the skin-bearing video brought it fame, but this was a rare case of the song being bigger and better than the hype. 

3. "Fast As You Can" (from When The Pawn..., 1999) 
Jon Brion brings his carnival atmosphere to Fiona's tales of woe. This is a sort of sequel to "Criminal," basically saying, get out before I turn on you. 

4. "Limp" (from When The Pawn..., 1999) Fiona flips the script. She's the victim this time, and she's pissed. Great line: "You fondle my trigger then you blame my gun." 

5. "Paper Bag" (from When The Pawn..., 1999) A throwback would-be showtune, once again about how much trouble she is. What's refreshing are the touches of humor: "He said, 'It's all in your head,' and I said 'So's everything' but he didn't get it." 

6. "Tymps (The Sick In The Head Song)" (from Extraordinary Machine, 2006)
As strong as When The Pawn... was, there's more clarity on the songs from her follow-up. She grew up in the meantime. This is a perfect example, with Fiona showing some narrative distance. The clockwork strings are a great addition. 

7. "Better Version Of Me" (from Extraordinary Machine, 2006) 
Though there's definitely introspection here, one gets the idea that Apple was mostly just having fun with words, almost like a rapper. Witness: "I don't want a home, I'd ruin that / Home is where my habits have a habitat." 

8."Extraordinary Machine" (from Extraordinary Machine, 2006) 
The full realization of the showtune tendencies she displayed on "Paper Bag," this self-empowerment song deserves to have a musical built around it. And I sure dig the falsetto! 

9. "Werewolf" (from The Idler Wheel...")
With its clever-but-graphic metaphors illustrating the end of a relationship, this is like a demented Cole Porter tune.

10. "Hot Knife" (from The Idler Wheel..., 2012)
An unabashed love song with complex, layered vocals over minimal drum accompaniment.

11. "For Her" (from Fetch the Bolt Cutters, 2020)
Musically, an excellent pairing with "Hot Knife"; both are vocally stunning and instrumentally minimal. Lyrically, however, it's as raw and cutting as "Hot Knife" is adoring.

12. "Fetch the Bolt Cutters" (from Fetch the Bolt Cutters, 2020)
"Shameika" could easily go here instead; both songs reach back to Fiona's youthful perception of herself, and how she let the words of others influence her, for good and bad.

*

This entry was revised in 2021. The original 2008 list is below.

1. "Sleep To Dream" (from Tidal, 1996) The initial shocking thing about Fiona for me was not her lyrics or her underwear, but her voice. So throaty and soulful, and all the more shocking for her big-eyed waifish looks. 

2. "Shadowboxer" (from Tidal, 1996) In some alternate or parallel reality this is a bonafide jazz standard. 

3. "Criminal" (from Tidal, 1996) 
Yes the skin-bearing video brought it fame, but this was a rare case of the song being bigger and better than the hype. 

4. "Fast As You Can" (from When The Pawn..., 1999) 
Jon Brion brings his carnival atmosphere to Fiona's tales of woe. This is a sort of sequel to "Criminal," basically saying, get out before I turn on you. 

5. "Limp" (from When The Pawn..., 1999) Fiona flips the script. She's the victim this time, and she's pissed. Great line: "You fondle my trigger then you blame my gun." 

6. "I Know" (from When The Pawn..., 1999) 
Featuring jazzy brushed drums, this is sort of a love song. A bruised one, toward a person who isn't readily available, but still a love song. 

7. "A Mistake" (from When The Pawn..., 1999) 
Nearly everybody has felt this way one time or another. There's something you know is going to be bad for you, but you rush headlong into it anyway. Fiona adds the appropriate level of defiance. "I'm gonna fuck it up again," she declares steadfastly. 

8. "Paper Bag" (from When The Pawn..., 1999) A throwback would-be showtune, once again about how much trouble she is. What's refreshing are the touches of humor: "He said, 'It's all in your head,' and I said 'So's everything' but he didn't get it." 

9. "Tymps (The Sick In The Head Song)" (from Extraordinary Machine, 2006)
As strong as When The Pawn... was, there's more clarity on the songs from her follow-up. She grew up in the meantime. This is a perfect example, with Fiona showing some narrative distance. The clockwork strings are a great addition. 

10. "Better Version Of Me" (from Extraordinary Machine, 2006) 
Though there's definitely introspection here, one gets the idea that Apple was mostly just having fun with words, almost like a rapper. Witness: "I don't want a home, I'd ruin that / Home is where my habits have a habitat." 

11."Extraordinary Machine" (from Extraordinary Machine, 2006) 
The full realization of the showtune tendencies she displayed on Paper Bag, this self-empowerment song deserves to have a musical built around it. And I sure dig the falsetto! 

12. "Waltz (Better Than Fine)" (from Extraordinary Machine, 2006) 
And thus, having successfully conquered her demons, she danced off into the sunset (for now).

Comments

Allen Lulu said…
One of my late daughter's favorite songs was "Extraordinary Machine". Haunting. Can't listen to it to this day. One of about a dozen pieces of music I just can't listen to (she was 13). But it's times like this that I wish you were posting the mp3 because I would like to give that list a sample.
Richard said…
If I had that CD I don't know if I would EVER stop listening to it. Fantastic choices!

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