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Fiona Apple makes An 'Extraordinary' return

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Fiona Apple has a pair of party dresses.

They're both called "Extraordinary Machine." The first one got all dolled up with fancy instrumentation by producer Jon Brion, and was leaked on the Internet while the formidable singer-songwriter still considered it a work in progress.

The second, produced by Mike Elizondo, is less frilly and more durable, and was officially released in October as Apple's third album, the first since "When the Pawn ..." in 1999. It's better suited, in the estimation of the 28-year-old pianist, to call attention to her mature, resilient, tough-minded, and yep, extraordinary songs.

"It's like if I had these two dresses, and I love both of them,' Apple says. She was talking on the phone from Seattle, the day after her first show in five years. "One of (the dresses) is perfect for the party," she goes on, "and the other one: I like it ... but it's not for me. It's not for this occasion."

The trouble with the first "Extraordinary," Apple says, is that its calliope of sound overwhelmed her songs.

"I wasn't present enough to really put my stamp on it," she says. "I left it in Jon's hands. I felt rushed and wasn't really available to captain the ship."

The brouhaha over "Extraordinary Machine" began when Brion, who has worked with Aimee Mann and Kanye West, told an interviewer Sony was unhappy with the album and had chosen not to release it. Apple acolytes organized at and sent faux fruit made of foam to the record label in protest.

"It was a huge surprise" to Apple that fans were demanding her release from music industry imprisonment. "I thought in this business that you leave the room for about five seconds, and then somebody else walks in, and they forget you. ... I felt incredibly cared about. Plus, it came at a point where I really wasn't getting what I wanted from Sony, so I think it did give me a little kick in the a--."

"Extraordinary," which in part chronicles Apple's breakup with movie director Paul Thomas Anderson, might have had an even longer gestation period if Brion hadn't prodded her into the studio in 2003.

"Ever since I started having anything to do with music, when I was like 11, I'd go through long periods where I'd be really into it, and then two years where I wouldn't play the piano at all," says the husky-voiced New York native.

Those lulls "don't worry me," she says, nor did the post-"Pawn" period spent whittling pine cone sculptures in her Venice Beach back yard. As she puts it on "Extraordinary's" whimsical title song, one of two she chose to keep from the Brion sessions: "If there was a better way to go, then it would find me."

"The coolest part of my job is that no matter what I'm doing, I'm working. And I think that's true of anybody who's trying to create. ... (Songwriting) started out as a personal thing for me, and if it became something else, then it probably wouldn't be very good."

What irked Apple is she says Sony told her told that if she re-recorded "Extraordinary," she would have to submit one track to the label at a time. (Sony says that was a misunderstanding.)

"I thought that was insulting," Apple says. "Because it implies that they would ... say, `If you just did this in the chorus, then we would like it.' And then they'd be getting in on my songwriting, which would just be the death of me."


(c) 2005, The Philadelphia Inquirer. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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