Our critics debate Fiona Apple's new album -- EW's Chris Willman and Whitney Pastorek give their opinions on ''Extraordinary Machines''

Extraordinary Machine

Our critics debate Fiona Apple’s new album

It’s not just comparing Apple and oranges when fans take sides on the two versions of Extraordinary Machine — the first, more lavish, Jon Brion-produced album that’s been widely bootlegged; and the mostly rerecorded, Mike Elizondo-produced disc released to stores this month. EW’s Chris Willman and Whitney Pastorek pick up the debate.

PASTOREK Title track aside, that unreleased album fell victim to too much baroque, hyperactive meddling. While Brion’s production on When the Pawn… enhanced the simplicity of Apple’s piano-and-some-pain songwriting, this time it buries her. Take ”Red Red Red”: Brion bludgeons us with strings, but Elizondo lays down a torchy swing that lets the lyrics — serious ”kill kill kill kill kill myself” Fiona angst — shine through. On Brion’s ”O’ Sailor,” heavy chords (was Apple playing the piano with her fists?) drag us down, but Elizondo wins with a far lighter touch — love the girl-group chorus. And the Disney-heroine-in-distress vibe of the first ”Not About Love” is just weird; give me the released version’s spunk and triumph, a hard-won happiness that was worth the wait.

WILLMAN Listen, the ”official” disc is wonderful — one of the year’s best. And I’ll grant that Elizondo improved two or three more groove-oriented tracks, like ”Get Him Back,” by adding some rhythmic zing. But you need the bootleg to have the extra-extraordinary version. Brion doesn’t bury Fiona on the orchestrated numbers any more than Nelson Riddle’s arrangements ”buried” Sinatra back in the day. Spareness is an overrated virtue! In ”Red Red Red,” the orchestra actually makes it more ”rock” — they’re doing power chords. And the sadder stuff becomes more pungently melancholic, because sometimes it takes a small army of guys quietly sawing nylon to fully express those depths. The unreleased ”O’ Sailor” is just wrenching, between Apple’s hoarser, more desperate vocal and those hushed strings. That it’s still in the can is…criminal. We demand a true DualDisc!

Extraordinary Machine
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