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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

Fiona Apple was only 18 when her first album, "Tidal," was released. It sold nearly three million copies and earned her a Grammy. Her second record sold almost a million copies, but Apple's fans have been waiting six years for a follow-up. Now they have it. Christian Bordal has this review of Apple's new CD, "Extraordinary Machine."

(Soundbite of "Extraordinary Machine")

CHRISTIAN BORDAL reporting:

I really like a lot of things about Fiona Apple's new record, "Extraordinary Machine," but I'll be pleasantly surprised if radio does and if it sells millions. The new melodies can be challenging and the verses are often cramped and angular with wiry chords, and though they usually release into a more flowing, legato chorus, these melodies don't have the easy, immediate beauty of her early work. Check out the first single, "O'Sailor."

(Soundbite of "O'Sailor")

Ms. FIONA APPLE: (Singing) O'Sailor, why'd you do it? What'd you do that for? Saying there's nothing to it, letting it go by the board...

BORDAL: Apple actually completed a whole different version of this record back in 2003 with producer Jon Brion, who's known for his work with hip singer/songwriter types like Apple and Aimee Mann and Rufus Wainwright. But Apple's label, Epic, subset of Sony Corp., rejected that record. They didn't hear a single.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. APPLE: (Singing) I was staring out the window the whole time he was talking to me. It was a filthy pane of glass; I couldn't get a clear view.

BORDAL: So to cut a long story very short, a new producer was brought in, Mike Elizondo, best known for his work with hip-hop stars like 50 Cent, Eminem and Mary J. Blige. Uh-oh, you say. Well, that's what I said anyway. But in fact, Elizondo is used to producing spare tracks that place the rapper front and center. With someone like Apple, that approach works. I'll let you be the judge. Here's an early version of one of my favorites on the album, a song called "Tymps (The Sick in the Head Song)."

(Soundbite of "Tymps (The Sick in the Head Song)")

Ms. APPLE: (Singing) Times were boom, and boom and bust. My feet of clay they dried the dust. It isn't the red we painted; it's just rust.

BORDAL: And here's the version being released on the new album. The track on the verse is definitely more hip-hop.

(Soundbite of "Tymps (The Sick in the Head Song)")

Ms. APPLE: (Singing) Those boom times went bust. My feet of clay--they dried the dust. The red isn't the red we painted, it's just rust. And the signature thing that used to win the following I have trouble now even remembering...

BORDAL: This is a kind of turning point for Fiona Apple. The music she's making now is too challenging and mature for a pop star career, so she has some decisions to make. Will she carry on a career at the level of, say, Joan Armatrading, who she often reminds me of, or Rickie Lee Jones or any number of wonderful midlevel artists with a great body of work, good careers and devoted fans? Or will she follow a path more like Kate Bush, another precocious teen with an incredible first album, whose output has become more and more sporadic? Stay tuned.

BRAND: Independent music critic Christian Bordal lives in Santa Monica.

(Soundbite of "Extraordinary Machine")

Ms. APPLE: And I certainly haven't been spreading myself around. I still only travel by foot and by foot it's a slow climb, but I'm good at being uncomfortable so I can't stop changing all the time. I notice that my opponent is always on the go and won't go slow so's not to...

BRAND: DAY TO DAY returns in a moment. I'm Madeleine Brand.

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