Monday, July 23, 2012

Only The Most Die-hard Fans Will Truly Want The "Criminal" Single.

The Good: Two great songs, live version of "Sleep To Dream" is exclusive
The Bad: Drastic underuse of medium, Nothing truly unique
The Basics: Underusing the c.d. medium, Fiona Apple breaks onto the music scene with the single "Criminal" which is good, but not indispensable.

For all of my love of the music of Fiona Apple, I am discovering that she has some of the same problems as virtually every other musical artist producing in that her singles offer little real value to listeners and collectors. For sure, I love the music of Apple and she is both creative and vocally and poetically talented, but when it comes to selling singles, she is not the most prolific artist and she does not put out much material to inspire those who are interested in her music to buy her singles. I find myself considering this as I consider the c.d. single to "Criminal," which was part of a giant donation of c.d.s my local library got and I've had the pleasure of filtering through as I look to expand my collection (and help my local library out).

"Criminal" was arguably Fiona Apple's biggest hit song and it came from her debut album, Tidal. The fundamental problem with this single is not that Apple uses two cuts from Tidal - she does, but with a variant - but rather that because the two tracks are available on Tidal and the variation is hardly an incredible difference, the listener gets more value by buying the full album as opposed to this disc.

With two tracks occupying 10:17, "Criminal" is a c.d. single which drastically underuses the potential of the compact disc medium. In addition to the album cut of "Criminal," the single includes a live version of "Sleep To Dream," the song which opened Apple's debut album. However, this is largely the musical vision of Fiona Apple. Apple wrote both songs and she plays piano on both tracks. As well, she provides the lead vocals on each song; the only thing she was not directly involved with was production, which is not surprising when one considers this came from her debut work and was her first single.

That said, for those who have not heard the works of Fiona Apple, she is very much the pop-rock style of "one woman and a piano," like Tori Amos. This style is very much accented by the "live" nature of "Sleep To Dream." Stripped of the produced tympanies, the piano carries the song instrumentally and it makes the song sound even more stark than the album original. But the single is not truly musically sparse; "Criminal" is richly produced blending deep piano with energetic percussion for an upbeat sounding pop-rock number which actually rocks.

Vocally, Fiona Apple is a masterful soprano who has exceptional range. So, when she enthusiastically growls through some of the most difficult lines of "Criminal," she goes into the lower ranges, but for the refrain, she is high and beautiful. In "Sleep To Dream," her voice is simple, true and beautifully articulate. She illustrates a flawless soprano voice that is easy to listen to and enjoy.

For those who might not have heard "Criminal" when it dominated airwaves in the late 1990s, this is Fiona Apple establishing herself as a fearless, strong and yet vulnerable artist whose lyrics seek redemption. The topic of guilt is rarely focused on in pop-rock and yet Apple does so with amazing poetic lines like "Heaven help me for the way I am / Save me from these evil deeds before I get them done / I know tomorrow brings the consequence at hand / But I keep living this day like the next will never come / Oh help me but don't tell me to deny it / I've got to cleanse myself of all these lies 'till I'm good enough for him / I've got a lot to lose and I'm bettin' high so I'm begging you / Before it ends just tell me where to begin" ("Criminal"). The song actually rocks and those who do not traditionally like female pop-rock artists are more likely to enjoy the rich sound and poetic verses of Apple on "Criminal."

But what many people view as a one-hit wonder is not the case and "Sleep To Dream" is a great example of how Apple has more songs in her than just "Criminal." When she sings "This mind, this body, and this voice cannot be stifled by your deviant ways / So don't forget what I told you / Don't come around I got my own hell to raise" ("Sleep To Dream") she establishes another strong female vocal persona and she carries it credibly. The live version of "Sleep To Dream" is a real treat for listeners.

. . . But it is also not the most audacious direction Apple could have gone with her single. "Sleep To Dream" was never one of the most produced songs, so the live version has interesting aural differences from the original, but it is not honestly offering listeners something truly different or unique. Most fans will be able to live without it. And for those who aren't into Apple yet, Tidal is a great place to start, more so than this.

For other Fiona Apple works, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Across The Universe (single)
When The Pawn . . .
The Idler Wheel . . .


For other music reviews, be sure to check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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