Ten years ago, I heard "Criminal," ran to my local CD store, and bought Tidal. I made it through about half the CD before I decided it was complete crap. Neither of her subsequent CDs did anything to change my mind, and her increasingly bizarre behavior convinced me that Fiona Apple was just another immature artist whose praise far outweighed her actual talent. Even Bettye Lavette's no-bullshit rendition of "Sleep to Dream" didn't cause me to reconsider my opinion (although it did open my eyes to the song's strength).
So when I saw Tidal sitting in the rack at EPFL, I couldn't contain my excitement. I love writing bad reviews, and this would surely be a home run in the ballpark of cynicism.
But dammit, Tidal isn't complete crap. Her voice is strong, even if she occasionally overstates her intent instead of trusting her listener. Her piano playing is interesting, and rarely oversteps its boundaries. The lyrics are decent, but her choice of words often belies her young age. Her songwriting is sophisticated and accessible, even if she's trying too hard. Tidal is not a great album, and I seriously question whether or not Apple deserves the praise that has been heaped upon her over the years, but this is a solid debut from an immature artist with an impressive talent.
It's not a perfect album, but it deserves far more credit than I've given it in the past. By taking her voice out of its natural range in the chorus of "Never is a Promise," she adds vulnerability to a song that would be dreadfully cold otherwise. Her inflections on the sultry "Slow Like Honey" say far more than her words possibly could. Unsurprisingly, there are a few bombs, the worst of which ("Carrion") sounds like Sgt. Pepper's tour bus ran over Sade.
Packaging: n/a The original packaging got lost or destroyed, but it was really nice of the staff at EPFL to print out the cover art and the track/time listings.
Listen if you like: Tori Amos, Aimee Mann, Liz Phair. At times, she reminds me of George Michael's Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. I, and she even hints at David Sylvian once in a while.
If it were food, it'd be: young Pinot Noir. It tastes good now, but with the proper care, it could be fantastic in a few years. (Whether or not Apple aged as well as a good Pinot Noir is debatable.)