Source Material: Fiona Apple, Tidal
"I have never been so insulted in all my life/ I could swallow the seas to wash down all this pride/ First you run like a fool just to be at my side/ And now you run like a fool but you just run to hide and I can't abide."
This is how the world was introduced to an 18-year-old Fiona Apple, a svelte, pouty-mouthed, badass beauty, frighteningly wise beyond her years, with a voice reckless and raw yet undeniably refined, and a way with words that could break bones harder than any proverbial stick or stone could conceive of. Tidal, Apple's debut album, came out in the summer of 1996. The music world was already well versed in scornful sirens: Alanis Morissette was still riding high on the overwhelming success of Jagged Little Pill, while P.J. Harvey and Tori Amos were receiving similar amounts of praise, both critically and commercially, and chicks like Ani DiFranco and Liz Phair were exhaustively working the underground circuit. This was the predawn of the Lilith Fair. And while all these women helped blaze the feisty female trail, there was something different about Apple.
Maybe it was her age. Let's face it: adolescent girls are frightening. There's nothing, nothing that can compare to the dangerous brew of hormones and fearlessness that fuels a teenager. Maybe it was her looks -- that barely legal, Calvin Klein-model, heroin-chic poise she so perfected in the video for "Criminal." Maybe it was her questionable emotional stability -- that infamous "This world is bullsh*t" speech at the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards. Maybe it was her haunting back story -- she was raped at the age of 12, a subject alluded to in songs like "Sullen Girl" and "The Child Is Gone." Or maybe it was really just her talent, as a singer, a songwriter and a young woman willing to hold nothing back.
Unlike many of her peers, Apple was merging some very disparate forms of music -- the modern edge of alternative rock, the confessional poignancy of singer-songwriter blues and the traditional elegance of vocal jazz -- and somehow making it onto MTV in between silly Foo Fighters Mentos parodies and silly Spice Girls faux-feminism pep rallies. Sure, Apple was pinned as the angry girl, the dangerous seductress, but Tidal proved she had a lot more to give: the delicate twists and turns in her vocals that flowed with the grit and grace of Billie Holiday, Nina Simone and Ella Fitzgerald. The fighting instincts in her lyrics that rolled off the tongue with the prowess of Pattie Smith and Laura Nyro. The imagery conveyed through her words ("My feel for you boy, is decaying in front of me/ Like the carrion of a murdered prey") as vivid as anything by songwriting greats like Tom Waits or Leonard Cohen.
Below, we spotlight some of these artists who helped pave the way and inspire the precocious soon-to-be-woman behind Tidal, the first release in an outstanding, if sadly small, catalog. Fans have desperately been waiting for a fourth album from Apple, her first since 2005's Extraordinary Machine. It's set to become a reality in 2012. In a 2006 Iconoclasts episode, Apple told Quentin Tarantino, "If you're not overflowing with something then there's nothing to give." So forgive the girl for taking her time. There aren't many people that can open themselves up with such vulnerability; so much so that it can make the listener feel as understood as the artist desperately hopes to be. And that's pretty rare in a world full of bullsh*t.