|Studio album by Fiona Apple|
|Released||September 30, 2005|
|Recorded||April 2004 – August 2005 (Elizondo/Kehew sessions)|
|Genre||Baroque pop, jazz, alternative rock|
|Label||Clean Slate / Epic|
|Producer||Mike Elizondo, Brian Kehew, Jon Brion|
|Fiona Apple chronology|
Extraordinary Machine is the third album by American singer-songwriter Fiona Apple, released by Epic Records in the United States on October 4, 2005. Produced by Jon Brion, it was expected to be released in 2003 but was delayed several times by the record label without explanation, leading to speculation that a dispute had arisen over its commercial appeal. The controversy surrounding the album and leaked recordings of the Jon Brion sessions were the subject of substantial press attention, as well as a highly publicized fan-led campaign to see the album officially released. In collaboration with producers Mike Elizondo and Brian Kehew, Apple re-recorded the album over 2004 and 2005, and it was eventually released more than three years after the original recording sessions began. In 2009, Extraordinary Machine was named the 49th best album of the 2000s by Rolling Stone magazine.
Background and production
After completing a concert tour in support of her second album When the Pawn... (1999) in 2000, Fiona Apple relocated to Los Angeles. "The first couple of years [after Pawn], I didn't have anything left in me to write about ... I just figured if the songs came to me, they came to me, and if not, 'Oh, well, it's been fun'", she said. During her hiatus, Apple contemplated retiring from her recording career. In spring 2002 Apple and Jon Brion, her longtime friend and producer on When the Pawn, met for their weekly lunch meeting. Brion's five-year relationship with comedienne Mary Lynn Rajskub had abruptly ended during the shooting of the Paul Thomas Anderson film Punch-Drunk Love (2002), which Brion was scoring. He reportedly "begged" Apple to make another album after being forced to watch hours of footage of Rajskub whilst working on the film: "I need work that can save me". Apple agreed, and Brion went to Apple's label, Epic Records, with strict stipulations (including no deadline), which the label eventually agreed to. A tentative November 2002 release date was then set.
After performing the then-untitled "Not About Love" at a Brion concert in February, Apple started studio work on the album the following June at Ocean Way Recording, where she played for Brion the first five songs she had written for the album. She debuted the song "A New Version of Me" (later renamed "Better", and then "Better Version of Me") live at Club Largo—where Brion has a regular Friday-night gig, often joined by musical friends—in August. By late 2002 Apple, Brion, engineer Tom Biller and percussionist Matt Chamberlain were at work in a wing of the Paramour Mansion, which was built in 1923 by silent film star Antonio Moreno; the four used the building as a temporary residence from early 2003, and Chamberlain said the experience of recording there was "completely amazing". With the album half complete in April 2003, Brion, Apple and Biller worked at Cello Studios, and a new release date of July 22 was announced. Brion and Apple then travelled to England later that month, to record strings and orchestration for the songs at Abbey Road Studios in London. The album was completed from Brion's perspective by May 2003, at which point the release was pushed back to September 30. But by Fall 2003 Apple and Brion were back in the recording studio adding finishing touches to the album, thus forcing back the release date to February 2004 (this was later changed to "early 2004").
Little by little, small details about the songs were revealed through newspaper and magazine articles. A New York Times article on Jon Brion in August 2003 revealed the title of another song on the album, "Oh Well", with Brion stating that he cried the first time he heard Apple play it. Brion worked solidly on "Oh Well" for over a week, and would later refer to it as the album's "problem child". The November 13, 2003 issue of Rolling Stone reported that the album was "definitely eclectic" and quoted Apple admitting that the album was "all over the place". The slow-paced track "Extraordinary" was referred to as "a Tin Pan Alley-esque blend of Tom Waits and Vaudeville", while the much more energetic "Better" was described as "an OutKast-like deluge of beats". In February 2004 an item in Spin magazine confirmed the title of the album and a new song, "Red, Red, Red" quoted has having been inspired by a book about optical illusions.
Delays and leaked tracks
In late June 2004 the song "Extraordinary"—which had since been retitled as the title track—was leaked onto the internet. Soon after, a "rough mix" of "Better Version of Me" also leaked, with the following inscription listed as a comment in the properties of the MP3 file: "It has some good bits, but I still think we never have topped the second version. Ideally, we would combine some of this with that, but obviously we can't. Sigh. Ask the others what they think—I know she was partial to both of them, particularly the second". Josh Korr of the Tampa Bay Times wrote, "With a playfulness and penchant for odd sounds and instruments that channel the spirit of Brian Wilson's Smile, Apple's first songs since 1999 make Norah Jones, Joss Stone, Alicia Keys and other pretenders sound like American Idol rejects", while Entertainment Weekly called the songs "tantalizing, brazenly eccentric art pop ... With Apple, the weirder, the better".
After months of no official news, an article about Jon Brion appeared in an October 2004 issue of Entertainment Weekly. In it Brion is reported to have said that the album had been shelved since its completion in May 2003 due to the label not hearing any obvious singles. A representative for Epic Records stated that the album was to be released in February 2005, and that Apple had decided to re-record some of the songs. Brion later clarified the status of the album in an interview with MTV News in January 2005: he said that Epic had desired material in the vein of Apple's debut album Tidal (1996), but that when confronted by Machine, "it's just not the obvious easy sell to them". When USA Today asked Apple herself about when the album would be released, she replied: "You'll probably know before I do".
Shortly thereafter, Fiona Apple fans organized a week-long mail campaign to flood Sony with support for Apple and for the release of the album. In response to the campaign, Epic president Steve Barnett said: "It's our understanding that Fiona is still in the midst of recording her next album, and we at Epic Records join music lovers everywhere in eagerly anticipating her next release". On February 26, 2005 radio DJ Andrew Harms at 107.7 The End in Seattle began playing previously unheard tracks from a bootleg copy of the album, and before long, poor quality copies of "Not About Love", "Get Him Back" and "Used to Love Him" were circulating on the internet. Harms said of the situation: "this is pretty special ... with an established [artist] like Fiona, to have that happen is pretty crazy, so to stumble upon a full-length copy of the record was incredible"; he also noted the positive response from listeners the songs had received.
By early March 2005 radio recordings of "Waltz", "Please, Please, Please", "Oh, Sailor" and "Window" had leaked online; those were followed by better quality album cuts of "Oh Well" and "Red, Red, Red". Soon after, CD-quality versions of all the tracks were released through the BitTorrent website TorrentBox. They received a positive review from the New York Times, who described the album as "an oddball gem", adding "Had it been released, Extraordinary Machine would have been a fine counterbalance to a pop moment full of monolithic, self-righteous sincerity." Ed Bumgardner concurred, saying the album was "certainly a work of daring and sophistication, as wildly imaginative as it is entertaining", while Will Dukes said "Extraordinary Machine flaunts a quirky, cold-world cohesiveness that's as inviting as it is alienating." According to the file-sharing tracking website BigChampagne in March, 46,759 people were sharing the leaked tracks on major P2P networks. The RIAA later contacted webmasters of sites hosting the files and asked them to be taken down, while the BitTorrent files subsequently vanished from the TorrentBox website.
Re-recording and release
Entertainment Weekly reported in its June 24, 2005 issue that Apple was preparing work on a "second third" album with producer Brian Kehew of the electronica band The Moog Cookbook, further fueling speculation amongst fans that the leaked Machine tracks had been shelved indefinitely. A July 2005 online chat, little noticed at the time, occurred with hip hop musician Questlove on a website devoted to The Roots. He said the album was "not cancelled", was in co-production with Mike Elizondo, and would be a DualDisc, all of which was later confirmed as true. (Questlove also said he played drums on the album, and in the March 2005 issue of Rolling Stone, he had said he may collaborate with Apple on her next album.)
After months of silence, Epic released a statement regarding the album's future on August 15, 2005: Extraordinary Machine was to be officially released on October 4, 2005, extensively reworked by co-producers Elizondo and Kehew. Elizondo had played bass on two When the Pawn tracks, but one reporter had described him as "a curious departure from Brion" because of his more well-known production work with popular hip hop artists such as 50 Cent, Dr. Dre and Eminem. He and Kehew worked at the Phantom Studio located behind Elizondo's Westlake Village home, reworking each song; track by track they built from Apple's piano and vocals, added live drums with the help of Abe Laboriel Jr. and Questlove, and then instrumental flourishes. Once the song frameworks had been completed, Apple returned to the studio and recorded final performances.
Of the eleven tracks previously leaked, two remained unchanged: "Extraordinary Machine" and "Waltz"; but nine were completely rearranged. One new song, "Parting Gift", was also included on the album; it is a solo vocal piece with piano that was recorded on the first take. Elizondo said he felt that most of the tracks sound "radically different", and that even though he listened to Brion's version, "Everything was done from scratch". The New York Times suggested that Epic Records was not impressed with fan interest in the bootleg, and that Apple never considered the album finished; but by the time of the leak, she and Elizondo had been at work for some time (since April 2004). In an interview with Rolling Stone in September 2005, Apple explained her decision: "I gathered scraps for songs, and I ended up writing the rest on the way, a totally new approach for me...[but] I didn't have enough time to live with the songs before recording them, so I really didn't know what I wanted".
Speaking with Billboard, Elizondo acknowledged that it was "a little disheartening" to be working with the knowledge that Brion's version was available to the public, but applauded Apple's "amazing core of fans" for their efforts to have the album released: "The way they interpreted it was, the label isn't putting out her record, so we're going to do it for her. That's very admirable". However, he defended Apple's decision to press on until the album reached the finished state that she had envisioned. On the day of the announcement, the label placed "O' Sailor" for streaming on Apple's MySpace site (the entire album was made available for streaming on September 27), and streamed both "O' Sailor" and "Parting Gift" on Apple's official website. Additionally, exclusive video material was put up weekly in the run-up to the album's release and most of which was later included on the DVD side of the album DualDisc, along with recordings of five of Apple's live performances at Largo.
Despite rumors that the album had caused a rift between Brion and Apple, they performed together at Largo the Friday evening before Epic's announcement. Brion told MTV News, "She re-recorded a bunch of stuff, but whatever, that's her business. I remain a fan and think she's great, and she shouldn't have to meet too much resistance"; meanwhile, Elizondo insisted Brion was "cool on all fronts" about the proposed re-recording. However, Brion struck out at the bootleg version of the album: "It's wrong...I don't like those [leaked] versions. It's stuff that doesn't reflect what we recorded, for the most part". In late 2005 MTV News reported that Brion and Apple may collaborate again to complete the original recording sessions for Extraordinary Machine and release it officially in the near future. Apple said "I really think it would be cool to compare [the two versions]."
Reception and promotion
The official version of Extraordinary Machine attracted universal acclaim according to Metacritic upon its release: it was placed number one on year-end top albums lists in Entertainment Weekly, The New York Times and Slant magazine, within the top five in The Village Voice, Blender magazine and Rolling Stone, and in the top ten in the Los Angeles Times and Spin magazine. A minority of publications commented less favorably about the album; Stylus magazine described it as "a rudderless piece of work" and "a bitterly disappointing listen", while the website Pitchfork Media (which placed the leaked version of the album at number forty-six on their "Top 50 Albums of 2005" list) wrote, "The shame of it all is that Apple, after six years of silence, could've made a more definitive, progressive statement rather than something familiar and similar—and we've got the bootlegs to prove it". Extraordinary Machine was nominated for the 2006 Grammy Award for "Best Pop Vocal Album", losing to Kelly Clarkson's Breakaway (see Grammy Awards of 2006).
During mid-August 2005 and ahead of the album's release in October, both "O' Sailor" and "Parting Gift" were made available as a bundle download at the online iTunes Music Store. While "O' Sailor" was released separately at other digital music stores, video promotion for "Parting Gift" began later that month. Extraordinary Machine debuted at number seven on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart with 94,000 copies sold in its first week of release, making it Apple's first top ten album; however, it fell out of the top ten in its second week with a sales decline of almost fifty percent. The video for "O' Sailor" began to receive television airplay in November, and the following January the "Not About Love" video made its internet premiere; early the next month, "Get Him Back" was released to radio stations. None of the singles attracted substantial airplay or digital downloads, and consequently they did not appear on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 or Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks chart.
As of April 19 the album had sold 462,000 copies in the U.S. according to Nielsen SoundScan, and, by mid-2012, had sold roughly 600,000 copies  Prior to receiving a gold certification from the RIAA in January 2006 for shipments of 500,000 copies, it was nominated for the New Pantheon award, which honours "left of center" albums that shipped less than 500,000 copies in the U.S. between July 2004 and October 2005. Apple went on a three-week U.S. tour from November 22 to December 11 to promote the album, and from January 25 to March 5, 2006 she supported British band Coldplay on the first half of their North American X&Y tour. Apple also appeared on her own headlining summer tour from April 10, 2006 to October 29, 2006, with Damien Rice and Davíd Garza as her supporting acts for the thirty-five shows.
All songs written by Fiona Apple.
- Not About Love (video)
- Extraordinary Machine (live at Club Largo)
- River, Stay Away from My Door (live at Club Largo)
- Paper Bag (live at Club Largo)
- Fast As You Can (live at Club Largo)
- You Belong to Me (live at Club Largo)
- Parting Gift (live at the Jazz Factory)
|Australian ARIA Albums Chart||53|
|French SNEP Albums Chart||61|
|U.S. Billboard 200||7|
|U.S. Billboard Top Internet Albums||3|
|U.S. Billboard Top Digital Albums||1|
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- Press release from Epic Records—August 15, 2005.
- Extraordinary Machine at Metacritic
- Extraordinary Machine radio—original version.
- Crawdaddy! Ex Posto Facto consideration of Extraordinary Machine March 2008
- University of Southern California's TrojanVision interview with Fiona Apple, fall 2003—requires RealPlayer.
- TheWayThingsAre—news index.
- Reviews of the bootleg release:
- Jon Pareles, New York Times (positive) April 3, 2005 link
- Sal Cinquemani, Slant magazine (4.5/5) link
- Ed Bumgardner, Relish Now! (positive) March 31, 2005 link
- Rob Mitchum, Pitchfork Media (7.8/10) October 5, 2005 link
- Malcolm X. Abram, Akron Beacon Journal (positive) April 3, 2005 link
- Robert Wilonsky, Dallas Observer (positive) April 14, 2005 link
- Jon Liu, The Harvard Independent (positive) April 14, 2005 link
- Salon.com (mixed) March 23, 2005 link
- Brian Hiatt, Rolling Stone (3.5/5) May, 2005 (p. 79) link
- Okayplayer (4/5) link