Scene Magazine
August 1996

That a relative newcomer such as Fiona Apple should break onto the music scene with the force of a Tidal wave shouldn't be all that surprising. Talented female artists such as Alanis Morissette and Sheryl Crow have, no doubt, opened doors in recent years for hungry, deserving young artists such as Apple to get noticed in a hurry. But that she should do it the old fashioned way -- simply by being true to herself -- makes her a rare talent, indeed. Without relying on the jarring, jostling rage of a Morissette or the subtly suggestive entendres of Crow, Apple has crafted a bona fide gem with Tidal -- a starkly honest and emotionally stirring effort that relies on the genuine strength of the emotional content rather than sensational elements as its major selling point.

Like its title suggests, Tidal is a gripping album that pulls the listener farther and farther in with each successive spin: before long, Apple has you lost in a sea of tranquil musings. But don't let the calm facade fool you -- there's a churning undertow at work on Tidal which, once it grabs you, there's no escaping its gravity.

Leaning more towards lavish cabaret stylings than alternative or pop, a quick glimpse might suggest Tidal is "easy listening." Closer examination, however, reveals a depth, range and maturity well beyond Apple's 18 years. Vocally, similarities with fellow ingenue Amanda Marshall abound, though it's Apple's disarming openness and sensual air that sets her apart.

Apple wastes no time cutting to the chase on Tidal's opening track, "Sleep To Dream": I tell you how I feel but you don't care/I say tell me the truth but you don't dare/You say love is a hell you cannot bear/And I say gimme mine back and then go there -- for all I care." It's truly powerful stuff -- the kind that sneaks up on you and catches you totally off guard. Both "Shadowboxer" and "Criminal" are single-quality material, the former finding Apple equating a lover's fleeting intentions with boxing with her own shadow, while something of a naughty subtext carries the latter.

It's on dreamy, almost liquid ballads such as "Slow Like Honey" that Apple is at her slow-brewed best; with light, moody texture elevating the sensuous nature of her voice to its fullest potential. "The First Taste" opens with Apple's voice breezing over sparse instrumentation, gently kicking into an alluring, uptempo groove. A tasteful string arrangement motivates "Never Is A Promise," evoking shades of Tori Amos as Apple meanders gently across her piano keyboard. Apple is ably backed by a top-notch cast throughout, led by the talents of Jellyfish/ Grays alum Jon Brion, who weighs in on a variety of instruments including harp, optigan, vibraphone, chamberlain, marimba, tack piano and guitar, accentuating Apple's poignant musings with melodic precision and subtle texture.

From start to finish, Tidal never wavers in its sincerity.

"The Child Is Gone" embodies a certain sadness as it details a loss of innocence, while "Carrion" rides the record out on the same sort of stirring note with which it begins, adding a slow, spunky build to the balanced mix.

Simply put, debut records aren't supposed to be this good. Apple's tender years mask a well-traveled and learned soul; her wistful, yearning spirit permeating Tidal's 10 tracks and making for a remarkable debut from an extraordinary talent.

Steven Batten


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