The is one of the most bizarre "new" albums that I will ever review for the simple fact that I had already heard 90% of it up to a year ago. The long (six year) wait since "When The Pawn" for a follow up album was attributed to Epic not thinking that the album that Fiona Apple and her producer Jon Brion delivered was commerical enough. And to be honest, if that had been the case they might have had a point. In it's "unofficial" form, it was the kind of album that all but Fiona's most ardent fans would have been completly non-plussed by.
Of course the official story now is that Fiona herslef was less than happy with the "original" record and wanted to re-record it, but Epic, having spent in the region of $800,000 on the record, were reluctant to give the green light to more expenditure. But the leaking of the music proved that there was an audience for the album and 50 Cent producer Mike Elizondo climbed on board to help finish the project.
The album was probably never going to live up to the hype that a six year abscence whirled up, but Extraordinary Machine very nearly pulls it off. The first thing that is immediatley noticeable is that there have indeed been many aesthetic changes to the version previously heard, and for the most part these are welcome. Gone are the cluttered arrangements of Brion (which at times seemed willfully designed to alienate listeners) but this is still hardly a commercial pop album.
This is very much a "break-up" album (as are all of Fiona's efforts really) but the sense of strong defiance that permiated When The Pawn is still very much evident. "Get Him Back" is a wry look at the aftermath of a break-up and has the pulsating piano one would expect. "Better Version Of Me" is another such track and is one of the definate highlights of the collection. But really there isn't a duff track on the whole album.
It never quite reaches the heights of "When The Pawn" and, to be honest, isn't quite the leap in a different direction that the protracted release of the album lead to suggest. You aren't going to mistake this for anyone else, it's a Fiona Apple record all the way through. Still, she's yet to make one that's anything less than excellent, and this wonderful album keeps that record going. Let's just hope it's not another six years for the follow up to this!
Icon's View - 4 1/2 out of 5.