This past spring, Extraordinary Machine, Fiona Apple‘s habitually delayed (allegedly because Epic didn’t smell a hit) third CD, popped up, unmastered and possibly incomplete, on the Net and was met with hoopla and, shockingly, seemingly zero attempts to nail whoever was behind the leak. Intrigue aside, the question remains: How does it sound? Answer: like a project that could’ve used a few more minutes in the oven. Producer Jon Brion (’99’s superb When the Pawn . . .
) is back and has never met a musical embellishment he couldn’t overembellish. From hurdy-gurdy to circus to cabaret, Brion skillfully piles it on, but sometimes (e.g., the shapeless “Better Version of Me” ) Fiona competes with him too much.
Truth be told, there are a few cuts that, while compelling, feel like works in progress. Yet even Fiona half-baked trumps much of the competition. On the darkly funny “Get Him Back” (“wait till I get him back, he won’t have a back to scratch”), her powerhouse piano, husky vocals, and delicious mood swings grab you by the throat. Yeah, the label’s right: There’s no single. But even so, Extraordinary Machine is worth hearing, because it’s an often biting taste of what fans have been denied for too long.