Has it really been almost three years since blue-eyed waif Fiona Apple punched through with "Shadowboxer" and the other powerfully poppy gifted-girl expressions on her appropriately titled "Tidal" debut? Hungered by the wait, Apple fans will jump on the 10 progressions that fill "When the Pawn." (The official title is an obnoxious 96 words long; go figure.) The songs are less poppy, without radio-pleasing hooks but filled with confident, big-girl bite. Only 19 when "Tidal" surfaced, Apple's maturity is evident on polished songs that are thick with a variety of orchestral atmospheres that contrast "Tidal's" keyboard-vocal rawness.
Opener "On the Bound" and "A Mistake" have distorted, carnylike backgrounds that playfully pump up and down like a calliope. (Perhaps her magician boyfriend's influence?) But the lyrics still have edge. From "Mistake" : "I'm going to fuck it up again/ Gonna do another detour/ I'm going to pick my own pain ... I'm not good at men." And "Get Gone" is catchy with its punctuating chorus of "And he don't give a shit about me." "Fast as You Can" is the safe but not standout first single and video; there's more and better on the CD.
Lindy T. Shepherd writes about music for the Orlando Weekly. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.