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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

It's been an interesting couple of years for Fiona Apple. Some of her new songs were leaked to the Internet, it was reported her record company was shelving her new CD, and so Fiona Apple's fans launched a campaign to make sure that her music made it into the record stores. It seems to have done the trick. Fiona Apple's third album, "Extraordinary Machine," is being released today. NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports.

ELIZABETH BLAIR reporting:

It would be easy to worry about Fiona Apple, with her fair skin, small physique and crystal green eyes. In photographs, she often looks a little scared or melancholic. In person, she's self-assured. She wrote the song "Extraordinary Machine" to let her friends and family know she can handle herself.

(Soundbite from "Extraordinary Machine")

Ms. FIONA APPLE: (Singing) I seem to you to seek a new disaster every day. You deem me due to clean my view and be at peace and lay. I mean to prove I mean to move in my own way and say I've been getting along for long before you came into the play.

My pet peeve in life is, and always have been, people close to me worrying about me a little bit too much when they think that maybe I need a little bit more help than I actually do. I always turn things that are bad into something good, so, you know, leave me alone.

(Soundbite from "Extraordinary Machine")

Ms. APPLE: (Singing) If there was a better way to go then it would find me. I can't help it, the road just rolls out behind me. Be kind to me or treat me mean. I'll make the most of it, I'm an extraordinary machine.

BLAIR: Fiona Apple was in her late teens when her first CD became a very big seller. Her songs often revealed her innermost secrets about love, lust, self-doubt, giving them an almost voyeuristic appeal. Fiona Apple is also known for outward displays of emotion, which some critics have found unbearable. She's been called petulant and a wolf in waif's clothing. Apple admits that early in her career she did some things she regrets, like rolling around in her underwear in the video for her hit song "Criminal," and getting emotional on stage.

Ms. APPLE: I was making it easy to be cast in that role because I cry a lot and stuff, but they needed a crazy girl that was controversial that some people liked and some people hated because that sells a lot more magazines. It makes a lot--people more money.

BLAIR: There was certainly a bit of drama around her new CD. More than two years ago, Fiona Apple and producer John Brion started working on some new songs. At one point, executives at her record label, Sony, told them they didn't hear a hit. That inspired Apple to write a song poking fun at the music industry's endless search for a chart topper. She sings, `Please, no more melodies. They lack impact. They're petty. They've been made up already.' But she also implicates herself.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. APPLE: (Singing) But me and everybody's on the sad same team and you can hear our sad brains screaming, `Give us something familiar, something similar to what we know already that will keep us steady, steady,' steady going nowhere.

BLAIR: Last year, two of the songs Fiona Apple worked on with John Brion were leaked to the Internet. Then all 11 songs were leaked, making them available for free. Critics gave the new material good reviews. It was reported in Entertainment Weekly that Sony had shelved the new CD because it lacked commercial appeal.

Mr. DAVE MUSCATO (Musician): My name's Dave Muscato. I'm a 21-year-old musician from Columbia, Missouri, and founder of the Free Fiona Apple campaign.

BLAIR: Free Fiona was an attempt by Muscato and other fans to put pressure on Sony. They sent more than a thousand foam apples to the company's headquarters and created a Web site that collected about 36,000 signatures for a petition urging the label to release "Extraordinary Machine."

Mr. MUSCATO: Her music is personal, but people can understand it in a way that really connects with them, and it's brooding, but she has a light in her that's very interesting to listen to.

Ms. APPLE: In my head I had quit, and then I find out about the Free Fiona people, who I think have a lot to do with me being here now.

BLAIR: Fiona Apple says Sony never threatened to shelve the album, but she stopped working on it because company executives wanted to approve her album one song at a time, an understandable request given that Apple's second CD did not sell as well as her first. But Sony says that was a miscommunication. In any case, Apple went back to work, but this time without John Brion because, she says, she was never really satisfied with what they'd done together.

Ms. APPLE: It just turned into a--more of a John Brion record, and a John Brion record is a great thing, but I just felt like I needed to try some of the songs again so that I could know that I had given it my best shot to do it the way that I wanted to.

BLAIR: Like her previous work, Fiona Apple's new songs examine what can go wrong in a couple.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. APPLE: (Singing) Don't understand about complimentary colors and what they say. Side by side they both get bright, together they both get gray.

Bright colors, when they put them next to each other, they make each other look brighter. They compliment each other. They're complimentary colors. But however, if you take those same colors and you put them together, they become a kind of really dull color. And I thought that that was a good metaphor for a lot of relationships. You know, that you can be just so close to somebody, but that when you try to sleep in the same bed, it doesn't really work out for either one of you.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. APPLE: (Singing) But he's been pretty much yellow and I've been kind of blue. But all I can see is red, red, red, red, red now. What am I gonna do?

BLAIR: Fiona Apple says sometimes when she finishes a song, she's afraid she'll never be able to do it again.

Ms. APPLE: But that's a really good sign if you're talking about a creative endeavor, because that means that you've put everything into it.

BLAIR: An extraordinary machine indeed. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. APPLE: (Singing) Oh say, why'd you do it? What'd you do that for?

MONTAGNE: And at npr.org you can listen to some of the music from "Extraordinary Machine," plus hear how Fiona Apple developed her percussive piano style. To discover more new music, you can now download NPR's online music program "All Songs Considered" as a podcast. That's an audio file that's automatically delivered to your computer or MP3 audio player. Simply visit or Web site, npr.org, and click on `NPR podcast' to learn how to subscribe.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. APPLE: (Singing) Whatever I've got, I've got no reason to go.

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