Fiona Rebuilds Musical 'Machine'

The back story of Fiona Apple's first new album in six years, "Extraordinary Machine," is truly, well, extraordinary. Earlier this year, 11 of Apple's tracks leaked on the Internet, making the rounds

The back story of Fiona Apple's first new album in six years, "Extraordinary Machine," is truly, well, extraordinary. Earlier this year, 11 of Apple's tracks leaked on the Internet, making the rounds on peer-to-peer networks.

Although the tactic is often part of a label strategy to build excitement for a project, the leaks devastated the singer. The songs "weren't done at all, and these weren't the versions I wanted to put out on an album," she says of the Jon Brion-produced tracks.

Then, through the Web site, Apple's core fans waged a campaign against her label, Epic Records, claiming that the company was unwilling to release the singer's third studio album. It is a charge that Epic president Steve Barnett denies: "Our goal was to put out a record that Fiona was happy with. There was never, ever any pressure from us. We're really proud of our working relationship with her."

Apple was so disheartened after the leaks that she says she quit working on the project. But she "couldn't stay angry long," she says. "Whoever did it, I think they thought they were doing me a favor."

With support from Epic, she worked on new versions of the tracks with producer Mike Elizondo. Elizondo was introduced to Apple by Brion, who had also produced her last studio project, 1999's "When the Pawn ..." Elizondo played bass on that album.

The final "Extraordinary Machine" features nine reworked tracks, two songs that kept their original form-the title track and "Waltz"-and a new song, "Parting Gift." A DualDisc features live performances, a video for "Not About Love" and behind-the-scenes footage.

Elizondo "made these really simple tracks to start off, and I really got excited," Apple says of the final recording process. "I knew all along that those two songs I kept exactly the same were perfect. 'Parting Gift' I wrote when we were finishing up, and it was recorded in one take."

The album has that signature Apple sound: sultry singing and smart lyrics combined with interesting arrangements and intriguing chord progressions. However, it also has a new element of musical spareness -- evident in the title track-and a funkier feel in a number of the songs, including "Tymps (The Sick in the Head Song)."

After touring through 2000 for "When the Pawn ...," Apple says she did not write songs for several years. Recording of the new tracks began in 2003.

As with past material, the "Extraordinary Machine" tunes took form based on "a word or a phrase that pops into my head," Apple says. "My biggest inspiration has been romantic relationships, because there's something about the way that you are in a relationship that is reflective of your relationship with the world."

Known for her confessional lyrics, Apple believes that some of the thoughts she expresses on "Extraordinary Machine" are the purest reflections of her as a person. They are found on the title track-with the lines, "Be kind to me, or treat me mean/I'll make the most of it, I'm an extraordinary machine"-and on "Red Red Red," which contains, "What's happened has happened/What's coming is already on its way with a role for me to play/And I don't understand, I'll never understand."

Apple says whether the controversy over the project ultimately attracts more listeners is not something with which she concerns herself. "I care about writing the songs and getting it done right," she says.

She says that her past has helped her take this attitude. In 2000, Apple cut short a show at New York's Roseland Ballroom because of sound problems, and her onstage meltdown was widely reported.

"Sometimes you're just human and you just break down, and it's not the end of the world," she says. "Even though I didn't get through Roseland, I got through getting through Roseland. I'm sure that got in the way of the music for a lot of people and didn't for a lot of other people, and there's really nothing I can do about that stuff."

Excerpted from the Oct. 8, 2005, issue of Billboard. The full original text is available to subscribers.

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