Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Tail Brings the Head to Its Knees.

The follow up to the masterpiece "When The Pawn Hits The Conflicts He Thinks Like A King What He Knows Throws The Blows When He Goes To The Fight And He'll Win The Whole Thing 'Fore He Enters The Ring There's No Body To Batter When Your Mind Is Your Might So When You Go Solo, You Hold Your Own Hand And Remember That Depth Is The Greatest Of Heights And If You Know Where You Stand, Then You Know Where To Land And If You Fall It Won't Matter, Cuz You'll Know That You're Right" finally will be visited upon us.

Moody's is apparently reevaluating Sony's debt rating, by the way.

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September 26, 2005
Re-emerging After a Strange Silence
By LOLA OGUNNAIKE

Fiona Apple, the soul-baring singer who hasn't released an album since 1999, wishes she had a more compelling explanation for her absence. "The truth is that I haven't been doing anything that interesting," she said, shrugging one afternoon late last week. "I got off the road last time and I just felt like not writing and not doing anything for a long time."

Ms. Apple will finally be back next week with the release of "Extraordinary Machine," the third album in her decade-long career. And judging from the 500 fans who flocked to the Virgin Megastore in Union Square in Manhattan on Tuesday to hear her sing, her return is none too soon.

Ms. Apple attained cause-célèbre status earlier this year when fans pressured her record company, Sony, to release the album, an early, unfinished version of which had been leaked on the Internet.

She called her decision to step back into the limelight a "really big experiment," given her past public struggles with popular success. Will the touring, television appearances and photo shoots cause her to "freak out again," she wondered? Or will she manage to find some pleasure in it all?

While promoting her first album her attitude was, "Please like me, please understand me," Ms. Apple, 28, said chuckling. "The second time was: 'Please don't misunderstand me again. Please understand me this time.' And this time it's really about me taking something that's been so stressful in the past and making it joyful. I don't want to be suffering all the time."

Suffering - Ms. Apple has made a cottage industry of it. She even addresses her penchant for pain on the title track of "Extraordinary Machine": "I seem to you to seek a new disaster everyday."

But she writes: "I mean to prove I mean to move in my own way, and say,/I've been getting along for long before you came into play."

In 1996 she made her debut with "Tidal," which sold three million copies and won a Grammy. Her second effort, "When the Pawn. ..." - the unabridged title is 90 words long - was hailed by critics but proved a commercial disappointment.

It did not help that Ms. Apple had a reputation for being difficult, a tortured soul with attitude to spare. In one of her more infamous tantrums, she berated audience members at the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards ceremony for worshiping celebrities. A Manhattan concert in 2000 was cut short when the singer, upset over sound difficulties, began sobbing uncontrollably onstage. Ms. Apple, who admits to being emotional ("it runs in my family"), said she was cast as a troubled loose cannon by the media because controversy makes great headlines.

"I was the right girl for the part," she conceded. "I cried a lot. I said a lot of stuff. There were lots of great rumors about me. Everything I did was put in bold print and italics."

It is difficult to believe that this tiny sliver of a woman once caused such a big commotion. Dressed in a floor-length peasant skirt, T-shirt and faded navy-blue hoodie, a genial Ms. Apple spoke in sprawling, uninterrupted sentences as she sat in a restaurant at her Midtown hotel. Thoughtful and introspective, she was all too willing to have her haunting blue-silver eyes look inward.

During her sabbatical, she said, she would often sit in her backyard in Venice, Calif., thinking and playing with pine cones. "I was making little pine-cone people with razor blades," Ms. Apple said, raking her fingers through her wavy brown hair. "That's all I did."

Her inertia did not sit well with some in her immediate circle. They accused Ms. Apple of being lazy, crazy and unproductive, she said. "It really hurt a couple of close relationships of mine," said Ms. Apple, who split with her boyfriend Paul Thomas Anderson, the film director, three years ago. "It infuriated me because they couldn't believe that when I'm sitting and thinking that's how I work."

Several years ago she decided that she was ready to begin recording again and called on Jon Brion, who produced "When the Pawn. ..." Their collaboration, while smooth before, was shaky this time. "Jon would play me stuff and I wouldn't be able to tell what I liked and what I didn't like," Ms. Apple said. After emerging from a deep funk, she eventually decided to rerecord her songs with the producer Mike Elizondo, who has worked with Dr. Dre.

According to Ms. Apple, things were going well until executives at Sony began asking her to submit individual songs for their approval. Only then would they determine how much more recording money she would receive. Sony had already sunk nearly $800,000 into recording the original version of "Extraordinary Machine."

"They basically wanted me to audition my songs," Ms. Apple said, visibly offended.

Lois Najarian, a representative for Sony, denies this and blamed Ms. Apple's perception of events on miscommunication. "That was surely not the case," Ms. Najarian said.

Unhappy with what she termed an "unlivable" arrangement, Ms. Apple threatened to abandon the project.

When the Brion-produced version of "Extraordinary Machine" showed up on the Internet earlier this year, Ms. Apple, upset that her unfinished work was available, thought Sony would scrap the album. "Who is going to give me money to make songs that are already out there?" she recalled thinking at the time.

Little did Ms. Apple know that a group of fans was pleading with Sony to release her album, which they thought had been shelved. Both Sony and Ms. Apple say it was not. On the Web site www.freefiona.com they railed against the "corporate giant" standing between them and their beloved.

"Please give us Fiona and we'll give you money back," read one poem posted on the site. Hundreds of foam apples were sent to the company, and in January a dedicated band of protesters, led by the Free Fiona founder Dave Muscato, stood outside the Madison Avenue offices of Sony BMG chanting, "We want Fiona."

She is quick to credit her freefiona fans with her comeback. "It's good to know that if you organize you can make change, because that's certainly not what I was doing," Ms. Apple said, "I was walking away."

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

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