Fiona Apple’s sophomore album, When the Pawn Hits the Conflict He Thinks Like a King What He Knows Throws the Blows When He Goes to the Fight And He'll Win the Whole Thing 'Fore He Enters the Ring There's No Body To Batter When Your Mind is Your Might So When You Go Solo, You Hold Your Own Hand And Remember That Depth is the Greatest of Heights And If You Know Where You Stand, Then You Know Where to Land And If You Fall It Won't Matter, Cuz You'll Know That You're Right (henceforth referred to as When the Pawn..., for the sake of our collective sanity), was released on November 9, 1999, by the Clean Slate division of Sony Music.
Like Tidal, its predecessor, When the Pawn... contains ten tracks written by Apple. The album involves more experimentation with various instrument families and has more of an overall jazz feel than Tidal. While it was not unanimously praised, most critics agreed that Apple’s songwriting skills had matured since her first release (she wrote most of the songs that appeared on Tidal as a teenager). Reviewers and fans cited her greater use of jazz techniques while still being able to present varying musical arrangements on a single record.
When the Pawn... was not quite as commercially successful as Tidal, and its singles received lukewarm receptions at best. This may have been an underlying reason for Sony’s eventual decision to shelve Apple’s third release, Extraordinary Machine, indefinitely – the recently unreleased album was “not marketable,” according to executives.
- "On the Bound" - 5:23
- "To Your Love" - 3:40
- "Limp" - 3:31
- "Love Ridden" - 3:22
- "Paper Bag" - 3:40
- "A Mistake" - 4:58
- "Fast as You Can" - 4:40
- "The Way Things Are" - 4:18
- "Get Gone" - 4:10
- "I Know" - 4:57
Track by Track
On the Bound
When the Pawn...
opens with a drum fill
. This is noteworthy because Tidal opens much the same way, though the intricacies of the percussion
part indicate that this album will involve more advanced instrumentation and orchestration. The main piano
motif involves a descending-and-ascending chromatic
bass line, the first of many references to the heavy jazz influence on this album, and whereas Tidal’s vocals were, for the most part, straight forward, Apple gives us some blue notes
. The song’s main theme alludes to change and transition
, which may be interpreted to refer to Apple’s evolving musical and personal styles.
To Your Love
Apple experiments with irregular-sounding rhythms that aren’t really irregular on this track and uses keyboard instruments other than the piano. This is also the first track with a prominent horn section, which intensifies the chorus. Vocally, “To Your Love” is a showcase for Apple’s extensive range but not to the extent of some of her other songs. Its piano instrumentation serves a more rhythmic purpose than it does on most of her other songs. The stark verse-chorus-bridge contrast prominent in many other tracks is not present in this song.
The first When the Pawn... review I ever read contained gems such as “I won’t even begin to discuss the double entendre behind “Limp.” Oops. Too late.” With this in mind, it’s hard to not be distracted by the liquid-like sound effects in the background. This song is one example of Apple’s talent for creating contrast within her songs; the verses are sung and played quietly and volume builds on the chorus as the lyrics become more intense and angry. “Limp” also contains a drum solo, an element not usually characteristic of a Fiona Apple song – but Matt Cameron makes it work. This was one of the album’s singles; it failed to achieve the commercial and critical success of “Fast as You Can.”
The soft, legato piano melodies and use of strings make this song reminiscent of Tidal’s “Never is a Promise,” but there are several key differences between the two songs. “Never is a Promise” catered to the high end of Apple’s range, whereas “Love Ridden” makes use more use of her lower register. Both songs seem to deal with the theme of love gone wrong but this one seems angrier in parts, and Apple’s voice breaks with intensity during the bridge. At 3 minutes and 22 seconds, this is the shortest song on the album.
This is arguably the most “jazzy” song on the entire album. Many of the typical characteristics of jazz music are present, including seventh chords and blue notes. It also contains some of Apple’s most interesting lyrical work; some critics have said that she proved herself as a poet and songwriter with these lyrics. “Paper Bag” was also released as a single and a video was also shot for it, but, much like “Limp,” it failed to live up to “Fast As You Can.” The use of horns is kept to a minimum until the song’s outro, on which there are one of the album’s few horn solo.
Apple laments her self-proclaimed inability to screw up on this track. The predominant instruments include percussion, piano and electric guitar. The main riff belongs to the piano, though the melody line is later solo-ed by something that sounds like a synthesized kazoo. The song’s overall theme seems to refer to Apple’s reputation as a perfectionist and her desire to not take herself and other things so seriously. Like most of the other songs on the album, it is tailored to her lower vocal range. It also ends with a reasonably lengthy instrumental section that incorporates most of the songs elements.
Fast As You Can
This song, with its fast-paced verses and chorus and rapid chord changes, was one of the album’s most successful. It is a prime example of Apple’s contrasting songwriting style; while it’s a wonder she doesn’t trip over her words during the song’s main sections (the combination of tempo and lyrics make for a bit of a musical tongue-twister), the song’s bridge switches time signatures and is far slower. The video was far more successful than those that were shot and released for “Limp” and “Paper Bag” and received a fair amount of play on MTV and other such channels. The instrumental section at the song’s conclusion is over a minute in length, indicating that by this stage in her career, Apple was more interested in musicality as a whole rather than writing ballads exclusively.
The Way Things Are
An oft-appearing motif on this album is the use of a descending bass line. “The Way Things Are” includes this frequently; every phrase includes such a bass line played by both the piano and bass. This is reversed somewhat on the chorus, when the bass line ascends briefly and then descends again. The main instrumentation involves piano and guitar effects, making this one of the only songs on that album that can be classified purely as rock. Apple’s skills as a songwriter continue to be proven as matured, as this song includes both a bridge and an instrumental solo. It deals with the issues of self-sufficiency and the ability to deal with other’s impressions of one’s self.
This is undoubtedly one of the album’s angstiest songs, and is probably one of the more angsty pieces in Apple’s entire repertoire. The main instrumentation is piano and percussion-based, but the drum work is very jazz-like in its use of light brushes. The verses are typically quieter than the chorus, on which Apple clearly becomes agitated and elements of sheer agitation are evident in her voice. After a brief instrumental interlude after the first chorus, it is repeated again but louder and with more intensity. The subsequent verse returns to the quiet volume of the first verse, and we hear one of the few instances in which she uses her higher vocal register on the album. The intensity builds throughout the final two renditions of the chorus, and Apple practically spits out her words at the end.
The jazz influence is again blatantly obvious on this, the album’s final track (and quite possibly one of the most heartbreaking songs ever). It begins quietly, using only piano and percussion, but grows to include strings during the second half of the first verse. This song has been likened to heartbreak songs of the mid-20th century, and the description is apt. The song’s intensity comes during the bridge with louder and more forceful piano chords and strings as well as vocals. While it is certainly very powerful on the album, Apple’s voice seems stronger and more immediate during live renditions of this song. By the songs end, however, Apple has returned to the quiet, almost tranquil volume of the song’s beginning. She is a woman who is well aware that her love has found another, but rather than express herself angrily like she has in other songs, she has resigned herself to her fate.
Accolades, Mockery and Packaging
Though When the Pawn...
was generally well received, its extraordinarily lengthy title automatically made it fodder
for music journalists
worldwide. When Spin Magazine
reviewed it, they printed the entire album title followed by “Oops, no room for the review. 0/5.” Other critics and fans were generally somewhat more kind, causing When the Pawn to rate as high as 13 on the Billboard 200
and number 1 on 1999’s Top Internet Albums
list for a brief period. “Fast As You Can” did moderately well on Top 40
charts, usually peaking around 20.
The cover art for When the Pawn... featured a close-up photo of Apple enclosed by letterbox-like borders. This was covered with a piece of translucent red paper, on which the album title was written. The resulting effect was Apple’s photo appearing through the sheer paper. The back of the album featured a black and white photo of Apple and a track listing that appeared to have been written (though “scratched out” might be a better description) by hand. The front of the disc itself is black with the artist’s name, album title and tracklisting written in the same “font” used on the front and back covers. There is much speculation as to whether or not this is Apple’s writing; this has not been confirmed.
The liner notes contain the lyrics, musical and production credits, a set of thank-yous from Apple, and photos from the recording process and video shoot for “Fast As You Can.”
Apparently, putting the album into a computer brings up its own CD player with the album artwork. This can be used to launch the default OS media player.
“When the Pawn – Wikipedia” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/When_the_Pawn 15 April 2005.
I’ve also owned this album since I was 14.