Fiona Apple: “Criminal”
Well, before I get to today’s song, let me just say: Happy Birthday, Reselect! Today is the one-year anniversary of the first post here on Reselect.com — but it feels like it was just yesterday. It’s been a lot of fun (and, admittedly, a lot of work as well — I’d be curious to know how many total words I’ve written in the process), and my plan is to keep it going for as long as I can, which means many great songs to come. Along the way I’ve made some online friends and have enjoyed the comments, and I’m looking forward to hearing from more of you as well. I hope you’ll keep checking in, reading along, commenting, and sharing the posts and spreading the word about Reselect, if you feel inspired to do so. Thanks for being here! Now on to the song…
I thought of choosing some song today to be symbolic of the site’s anniversary, but opted not to simply because I couldn’t think of anything that worked. So I decided that I’d just pick another excellent song and keep doing what I’ve been doing all along. And for whatever reason, “Criminal,” from Fiona Apple’s 1996 debut album, Tidal, was one of the first songs to spring to mind. Apple has tread a solitary path over the course of her three albums (a fourth is due out in June) — she’s always done things the way she wants to do them, whether or not it has been at odds with her record company or conventional wisdom on how to build a successful career, and I’ve always admired that about her. Early on she sometimes came off as being immature, but I think you can pretty much credit that to the fact that yes, she was indeed just 19 when that first album came out. She received an awful lot of attention during that time, much of it being controversy over the video for this song; it would be a lot to expect anyone of that age to handle it all with grace, so I really don’t care about any missteps she may have made.
What matters is that she has always made great music. The “woman and her piano” archetype has been around in popular music for many years, dating back to Laura Nyro and Carole King in the ’60s, but Fiona Apple was able to put her own unique stamp on it. Tidal was a pretty great first album for anyone, much less someone who was just out of high school. Even more than her piano playing, Apple’s voice is her strongest asset — it’s deep and throaty, very expressive, and capable of handling the very high notes as well as the very low. Her personality comes through in her voice far more than many other singers, which I think is part of the reason that her loyal fan-base connected so strongly with her. The production by Andrew Slater (who also worked with Warren Zevon, Zevon’s Hindu Love Gods, and Macy Gray, among others) fits the music perfectly and fills it out into an excellent sonic experience. “Criminal” has a sound that is very 1968 Beatles, like something off of Magical Mystery Tour, and that’s one of the things that helped it really jump out from other songs on the radio in the mid-’90s. The melody, on the other hand, is very much like an early Elton John song — it seems like Apple may have been spending a lot of time listening to Tumbleweed Connection when writing “Criminal.” But regardless of certain musical connections like that, it stands as a strong, dramatic statement on its own, sung from the perspective of someone who has treated their significant other poorly (we don’t know exactly how, but it certainly sounds like she might have fooled around with someone else), with more mature lyrics than one might have expected from such a young songwriter:
Oh help me but don’t tell me to deny it
I’ve got to cleanse myself of all these lies ’till I’m good enough for him
I’ve got a lot to lose and I’m bettin’ high so I’m begging you
Before it ends just tell me where to begin
I’ve always looked forward to watching Apple’s next move on the music landscape, so you may be hearing back from me soon if her forthcoming album offers up any nuggets nearly as good as “Criminal.” I have a feeling it will.