An Ode To Female Fury, Happy 20th Birthday to “Tidal” by Fiona Apple
In a world of Donald Trump and Taylor Swift headlines, let’s celebrate something worth smiling about. 20 years ago, a 19 year old weirdo dropped an album. That album was the first time a record really changed my life, when I went through my mother’s CD collection and selected the one with the woman staring me down. It turned out to be Fiona Apple’s “Tidal.”
Much like anyone with ears who paid attention at all in the ’90s, I had already known of a song that begun with the words “I’ve been a bad, bad girl.” What I hadn’t learned, was how exactly genius that song was. Instead of a self indulgent bad girl anthem that those lines could easily have been an introduction to, “Criminal,” was an honest and self-critical tongue-in-cheek song about knowing you’re doing something wrong and doing nothing to stop it.
It was also the song that introduced the world to Fiona Apple, cutting through the hazy stream of ’90s “alt” acts emerging, a hard-to-define genre already. Thanks to Fiona, we found beauty in making mistakes on purpose, insolently owning your self respect and finding comfort in your anger. While the media tends to characterize her a “crazy” recluse after making headlines delivering quite a speech at the 1997 VMAS or falling down and crawling underneath pianos during live sets, Fiona Apple still remains as one of the most prolific and honest contemporary songwriters, with lyrics that border on transcendence. Her lyrics, simultaneously full of wise cracks and an open would, go on to even influence Kanye West.
Kanye told will.i.am that “the only albums that I listened to were yours, System of a Down and Fiona Apple.” In 2005, Apple and West got the chance to talk for a piece for Interview magazine. West told Apple she was “possibly his favorite” and that the lyrics and singing on her debut Tidal made him want to work with producer Jon Brion “so I could be like the rap version of you,” and asked the most essential question, “How is your vocabulary so ill?”
The very first time I listened to the entirety of her first album, I wondered the same damn thing.
“Tidal” turns 20 years old this weekend, released specifically on July 23, 1996. While arguably every song on the album deserves a listen, here is a crash course.
“Sleep to Dream”
The opening track off of “Tidal” is quite possibly the most prolific and rageful. The declaration of self-respect and spitting anger made my 12-year-old self furious over nothing in particular. As I got older and delved further into her work, I realized how liberating it was as a woman to not be scared or watered down in your anger. I can thank Fiona for that.
You say love is a hell you cannot bear / And I say gimme mine back / and then go there / for all I care
“Shadowboxer” will torment you over a lover you never had. As she slurs her speech and warns herself against dangerous gazes, “Shadowboxer” keeps pulling punches in defiance only Fiona can hold.
So darlin’ / I just wanna say / Just in case/ I don’t come through / I was on to every play/ I just wanted you
One of the most notable public stories of Fiona Apple is her account of being sexually assaulted when she was twelve outside the apartment she lived in. Subsequently, she battled an eating disorder to purposely slim her body she viewed as “bait.”
“Sullen Girl” is one of the only times she explicitly addresses it, and does so in such a haunting and mournful way, it becomes hard to listen to. With subject matter that is usually met with silence, Fiona Apple does not keep quiet.
I used to sail the deep and tranquil sea / But he washed me shore/ And he took my pearl/ And left an empty shell of me
“Slow Like Honey”
As much as people attempt to create a genre with the term, “alternative,” Fiona Apple is just as much plainly influenced by jazz than any other musical genre. It is the one style that threads together each of her albums along with her quick and raw prose.
“Slow Like Honey” builds and builds as the song devolves and Apple’s voice croons like she smokes more than she should. It’s a subtle gem off the album that sticks with you the more you listen to it, as slow as honey.
When I’m gone like yesterday / When I’m high like heaven / When I’m strong like music / ‘Cause I’m slow like honey, and / Heavy with mood
For the pure sake of originality, I made an attempt to leave this song off the list. I am unable, due to how much of a classic this song instantly became. This video, as controversial as it was, was a solid marketing attempt at making an image Apple never quite reflected. She is tiny and beautiful, but far too unusual and defiant to be a complaisant siren. No one quite nails down female fury like Fiona. She has her own hell to raise.
So what would an angel say? / The devil wants to know
Happy Birthday “Tidal”, and thank you.
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