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When the Pawn

music reviewmusic review  out of 4 Music Review: When the Pawn

Artist: Fiona Apple
Genre: Rock/Pop
Release Date: November 1999

Review by LarryG
2 stars out of 4

Fiona Apple was 18 when she wrote most of the songs for her debut Tidal record. At 22, Apple still seems young. When The Pawn has the excitement and awkwardness of a bright young woman still exploring her feelings and finding her own sound. It's filled with contradictions. She has an agile, mature voice but still writes diary type lyrics. Her songs often have ambitious arrangements but not much depth.

The mix of confidence and awkwardness is clear from the record's title. There's something refreshingly audacious about using a ninety word poem as an album title. Rather than being known as When The Pawn, the record should be referred to as When the Pawn Hits the Conflict He Thinks He's a King to give some sense of Apple's ambition. However, the poem is pretentious and pretty bad.

The album's opener On The Bound makes it immediately clear that When the Pawn is going to be an interesting but tough listen. On the Bound is very theatrical, with Apple's dramatic piano, strings and woodwinds. Apple sings of a confusion and need for reassurance, especially from a lover. Her repeated cry, trying to convince herself "you're all I need", gets a little tiresome after a while. Other young women are Apple's most obvious audience. They can relate to her feelings of uncertainty and won't find her anguished emotions too melodramatic. In To Your Love, Apple can't get close to her boyfriend because of private pain. The music has a stark atmosphere with a good, irregular beat. A chamberlain adds the eastern or old fashioned feel many of the songs have. But if you go under the surface, the music of To Your Love, like on much of When The Pawn, doesn't have much substance. The string laden Love Ridden has a simple beauty that contrasts with her overwrought emotion of ambivalence about leaving her man. The Way Things Are has a cool musical charm but Apple's lyrics about being fine with being in a messed up relationship are stupid. Apple's more interesting telling a worthless guy to get lost on Get Gone.

When The Pawn is better when Apple shows more life. Apple's flood of words and fluid delivery is well suited to the jazzy sound and Matt Chamberlain's jagged beat on Fast As You Can. Apple flirtatiously warns her man that she's no good for him and he should leave. On Limp, she's in pain because of her lover but instead of wallowing, she orders him away, mocking him, "it won't be long till you'll be lying limp in your own hand." The music meanders at times but gains force on the chorus with a driving beat and Apple's angry vocals and focused piano. A Mistake has a likable looseness but the lyrics are almost a replay of Tidal's Criminal. Apple is self consciously bad, she's gonna make a mistake on purpose. Like many of the songs on When the Pawn, A Mistake might lead to a sense of deja vu for Aimee Mann fans. Jon Brion produces and plays for both, lending fun, surreal circuslike keyboard effects. The older but wiser Mann is better able to find irony and perspective in the pain both artists sing about. Still, with her good voice, big emotions and talent and love for a big orchestrated sound, Apple is often fascinating. Her lyrics seem confused on I Know, aware of the problems of loving a guy who's still with someone else. Her singing and the lush, simple arrangement are more mature than her words.

Apple is still trying to prove herself. Her openly displayed emotions are more interesting communicated than Jewel's, for instance, but she'll be more interesting when she matures and gets a little more subtle. The same is true of the music. Instead of making great songs, Apple often seems to be showing how sophisticated and cool she is. When the Pawn is an interesting work from an artist with incredible potential.



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