We've had the opportunity to watch Fiona Apple grow up before our eyes. She was just a teen in '96 when she released her platinum debut, Tidal, and was still precocious enough to release a follow-up with an unwieldy 90-word title three years later.
Last year's Extraordinary Machine isn't so much a departure from When the Pawn . . . as a deepening of her aesthetic. Machine delivers a similar piano-driven, cabaret-pop approach, replete with Apple's trademark winding arrangements.
The lyrics on Apple's prior albums veered a bit too close to the overwrought, making her a somewhat hipper answer to Tori Amos. But the seven intervening years between this album and the last have done wonders. Just 13 months away from 30, Apple has matured as a songwriter. "Please Please Please" finds Apple confessing, "I'm so tired of crying/ You'd think I was a siren," and on "Better Versions of Me," she acknowledges, "I am likely to miss the main event if I stop to cry or complain again." Her wisdom has caught up with her artistry, and she appears ready to join P.J. Harvey as one of the most vital indie female artists.