The Albums: Tidal (1996), When the Pawn... (1999), Extraordinary Machine (2005)
In a pop landscape dominated by the rising specter of the coming boy band surge and the cultish culture of “Spice World,” 18 year-old singer Fiona Apple's stark, incisive songs struck like a sledgehammer to the brain. With the help of one of the most salacious, remote control-stopping visuals of MTV's heyday for single “Criminal,” Apple's 1996 debut Tidal became a sensation of alternative pop, a showcase of prodigious vision, an unmistakable, evocative voice , and singular songwriting ability that managed to balance dense poetry and memorable hooks. 1999 follow-up When the Pawn... saw Apple again at peak powers, broadening her sonic horizons with the help of producer Jon Brion while keeping her unique gift for lyrics simultaneously obtuse and cutting firmly intact, solidifying the singer as one of the finest artists of her generation–even at a mere 21 years-old. Though oft-delayed, maligned by leaks, and existing in two forms (one only partially completed), the version of Apple's third album, Extraordinary Machine, that hit store shelves in 2005 reminded listeners that Apple possessed rarely-paralleled capacity for adventurous pop.