Six years on from her second album - the one with the ludicrous 90-word title - little seems to have changed in Fiona Apple's world. She's still coming across like a conservatory-trained Alanis Morissette, trying vainly to slice through the Gordian Knot of romance and relationships in songs that twist and coil around themselves, and she's still employing one of the broadest, most interesting instrumental palettes in popular music.
On previous releases, she used the invaluable multi-instrumentalist Jon Brion to embroider her songs with layer upon layer of antique keyboard devices. Here, however, Brion's contribution is limited largely to the title track arrangement, which utilises pizzicato strings, noodling woodwind and the occasional well-placed chime to create a kind of avant-showtune setting for Apple's declaration of self-determination. "If there was a better way to go then it would find me," she reasons, "I can't help it, the road just rolls out behind me."
It's certainly an individual route she's chosen, one in which her convoluted, sometimes over-egged lyrics are accompanied by piano settings which encroach bravely on discordant territory, and further complicated by richly textured arrangements which concede little to pop fashions. Brion's multi-instrumentalist role has been usurped by one Zac Rae, who overdubs a vast array of bizarre sounds on several of these songs: the track "Tymps" alone features his marimba, vibes, Wurlitzer, clavinet, celeste, Optigan, tack piano and Marxophone, alongside others' Mellotron and Chamberlain contributions, the whole strolling along with a slow reggae undertow.
It's typical of the musical approach on Extraordinary Machine, as too is its focus on Apple's amorous imbroglios, which are anatomised obsessively throughout the album. Sadly, her innate pessimism - "Can't take a good day without a bad one," she admits in "Better Version Of Me" - seems to sabotage her attempts at stable relationships. So expectant has she become of disappointment that she actually feels deprived when it doesn't happen: "I think he let me down, when he didn't disappoint me". Good news for her therapist, and for her muse too, as she busily creates knots with which to tie down her emotions. "Everything good, I deem too good to be true/ Everything else is just a bore," she asserts in "O' Sailor", "Everything I have to look forward to/ Has a pretty painful and very imposing before."
One gets the distinct impression that as soon as she finds true happiness, her career will be over.
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