January 1998

Fiona Apple - Tidal
WORK/Clean Slate OK 67439
Released: 1996

by Jay Piriz

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment *****

[Reviewed on CD]Fiona Apple Maggart McAfee is only 19 years old. She is a native New Yorker who has become the definitive late-90's post-grunge queen, a musical Kate Moss. Apple (her middle name), who has been playing the piano since age 8 and composing songs since age 11, writes with perplexing maturity and performs on Tidal like the lyrics of one of her songs explains: "slow like honey and heavy with mood." This debut effort performed and released when the artist was only 18 is a delicate first taste of the Apple. Her songs are haunting, dusky and stark confessionals rife with emotional torment. Tidal is dark and at the same time funky, with a hint of Broadway. Above all, however, Tidal is musical poetry, one of 1996's most poignant releases.

By December of 1996, Tidal had gone certified gold with over 500,000 copies sold and a Grammy nomination under its belt. MOJO magazine said of a live performance in England in July 1997, "Feminine angst, girl power...an old head on a young body...a Beverly Hills 90210 Prom Queen....Frustrating contradictions, youth and uncontrollable talent." Beat magazine wrote in August of 1996 following a live performance, "Classic schoolgirl, pale, intelligent expression, nervous body language....so young, so sensitive, so talented, quite a burden." The New York Times noted "a voice and message that make her looks irrelevant." I saw Fiona Apple as an opening act for Counting Crows in early 1996. She was so quirky, nervous, contorted, fidgety and incoherent during the song breaks that most everyone, myself included, was in the lobby of the theater having a few beers while she played and talked aimlessly about her personal life and old loves gone bad. I was totally unimpressed. Her senseless comments during the acceptance of an MTV music award on national television in early 1997 reaffirmed my prior conclusions about this "overrated flash-in-the-pan performer." After listening to Tidal, however, I admit that the New York Times was right--her voice and message DO make her looks irrelevant. First impressions, however, are hard to overcome.

This CD has 10 wonderful, original songs that are each like a page out of Apple's diary. In "Sullen Girl," the second track, Apple says, "they don't know I used to sail the deep and tranquil sea/but he washed me ashore and he took my pearl/and left an empty shell of me." Apple was raped at the age of 11 by a stranger. Apple was already a withdrawn child, and the attack understandably caused a further emotional withdrawal. Apple retreated into music where she found solace. These lyrics in "Sullen Girl" seem to be referring to this time in her life. The music on this cut is deep and mature, with Apple doing a fine job on the piano.

The lyrics of "Shadowboxer," the third track on the CD speak of the dangers of desire and vulnerability. "Oh, your gaze is dangerous/and you fill your space so sweet/if I let you get too close/you'll set your spell on me." This tune is replete with Apple's piano, nice instrumental backgrounds and a very smooth and detailed job of recording the vocal. "Slow Like Honey," the fifth track on this CD, is my personal favorite. Apple's vocal emotion, intonation and gentle inflection (when she sings "...like a melody," at 1:20 into the cut) are just mesmerizing. "Never a Promise," shows off Apple's upper register nicely while employing violins, a viola, a cello and a piano.

I cannot think of one song on this CD that I classify as weak. Some are stronger than others, but none are weak. Although not of audiophile quality, this recording is quite good. Strings are smooth and most importantly, the vocals are articulate, well defined and focused. The overall character of the musical presentation of the instruments is well balanced.

When I set out to write this review, I did not think it would be too long. But as I began to listen and think, I realized there was much to say about this artist and this performance. This CD is best enjoyed uninterrupted, from first track to last, preferably late in the evening with your favorite libation at your side. This Apple is not yet fully ripened, but even at this early stage, the flavor of the fruit is very good indeed. As Fiona Apple reaches maturity and achieves her full, controlled potential the result may be a new, more flavorful fruit, the likes of which has never before been tasted in our Garden of Eden. Watch out Adam, this Apple is dangerous. This release is, well...a Tidal waif.