Few artists operate in a vacuum, which means that even the most original performer absorbs her influences from somewhere. So it goes that Fiona Apple (born Fiona Apple McAfee Maggart on September 13, 1977), a remarkably talented singer and songwriter known for carving her own niche, has never operated without outside influences. Yet, what's admirable is that Apple never feels compelled to betray her influences in her music and that over the course of the four albums she's released in the past decade and a half, she's crafted a singular vision spurred on by her inventive intent.
It was that intriguing formula -- the soaring vocals,
instrumental dexterity, and soul-searching lyricism -- that originally set
her apart and netted her a contract with Sony Music, where she is
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affiliated even today. It was also the sound that made her an almost
immediate success, driving her debut album, Tidal, to sales of 2.7 million and a single from that album titled "Criminal" to Billboard's
It also helped garner her an MTV Video Music Award that almost
proved her undoing. In her acceptance speech, Apple denounced the
overhyped imagery and faux fashion that seemed to be the typical award
show's stock and trade. Apple, however, was unapologetic, and from that
point forward, her unpredictable attitude and forthright stance tempered
her image and gained her a reputation as an artist with a petulant
Apple's second album further affirmed her offbeat instincts. The title -- When the Pawn... for short-- is a complete poem that Apple wrote in response to negative press. In addition to its impressive sales and a top 20 hit in its lead single, "Fast as You Can," it also gained distinction in the Guinness Book of Records for having the longest album title up until that time. However, her irascible instincts again came to the fore when, shortly thereafter, she performed at New York's Roseland Ballroom and walked offstage 40 minutes into her set after equipment issues disrupted her performance.
The follow-up album, Extraordinary Machine, was also fraught with difficulties. It was three years in the making, and prior to its release, the entire album was leaked online. To complicate matters, the album was rerecorded after completion, not because the label was dissatisfied as some fans thought but because Apple opted to remake it from scratch.
It was nearly seven years until her latest album appeared. The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do, was also fraught with controversy. Billboard prematurely publicized the album nearly two years before it finally appeared, and Apple's drummer, Charlie Drayton, erroneously announced he was producing it even though Apple's label claimed to have no knowledge of its forthcoming release.
Apple owes some of her invention to some notable predecessors. Kate Bush made quirky ambiance and wildly inventive arrangements her standard stock as far back as the late '70s and recently got a shoutout from rapper Big Boi. Tori Amos had a similar soprano and that plaintive piano-based approach and helped make that atmospheric, introspective stance appealing to the masses. Sarah McLachlan added her own brand of musical mysticism and alluded to some New Age reverence in the process.
Apple seems to have inherited elements of each, turning the combination into an approach that soars on its own merits. And that's the mark of a great artist -- one who can distill certain sounds and create a new brew. At this point, Apple's earned that distinction.
Fiona Apple, at 8 p.m. Sunday, September 30, at the Fillmore Miami Beach, 1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach. Visit FillmoreMB.com.
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