As I listened to Fiona Apple’s unreleased album Extraordinary Machine, I pictured Fiona, face heavily painted, alternately banging on trashcan lids, playing an accordion and the armpit fart, while a monkey scampered about her feet, dressed in a marching band suit, playing an organ grinder.
It’s Fiona gone vaudeville. Or a western saloon.
Extraordinary Machine was reportedly shelved by Fiona’s record label Sony since late 2003 because it had been deemed ‘uncommercial.’ I guess when they were thinking ‘surefire hit,’ they were thinking Mariah Carey’s Charmbracelet. I think this proves that you can’t predict what the public will like, because the only thing different about Charmbracelet and any of its predecessors is Mariah’s increasingly trampy outfits.
A fan, desperate to get Extraordinary Machine released, started the Free Fiona campaign, hoping to pressure Sony to release it. It’s an uphill battle of biblical proportions, like the David vs Liza Minnelli-Gest divorce proceedings.
Fortunately, the whole album was leaked to the internet in March, purportedly by Fiona’s camp. Fans had been buzzing about how amazing it was.
Like everyone else, I started trying to find sources where I could download it, but Sony had shut down many sites which had provided it. It was just by luck that I happened on a fellow Blogcritic who had posted a high quality rip of the album for a very short time.
I wasn’t really sure what to think about the album. The only other time I’ve heard anything like this was when Barbra Streisand sang "The World Is a Concerto/Make Your Own Kind of Music," accompanied by an orchestra made up of strings, horns and household appliances. Barbra, in a long satin white gown with long sleeves and a bouffant, sang her heart out while typewriters, vacuum cleaners and blenders all clacked and whirred along. Yes, it was that gay. Throw a Pucci apron on her and she’s your average domestic goddess.
Many of the fan-created CD cover artwork had been very literal: robotic Fiona, Franken-Fiona, Fiona-and-a-rotisserie-oven (appliances again). But no, the album isn’t electronica or Nine Inch Nails; it’s more like Fiona meets Tin Pan Alley, emphasis on the tin pans.