A sour bite for Apple

Pop Music

April 17, 2005|By Richard Cromelin | Richard Cromelin,LOS ANGELES TIMES

Who upset the Apple cart?

Nobody's taking credit for spilling Fiona Apple's unreleased (and possibly unfinished) third album all over the Internet, but the action has upped the ante in what's become pop music's biggest art-vs.-commerce dust-up since Wilco vs. Reprise Records and Danger Mouse vs. the Beatles.

Now Apple's record company is cracking down, she has clammed up, and fans are still manning the barricades.

The New York-bred singer-songwriter - whose first two albums, 1997's Tidal and 1999's When the Pawn ... , made her a commercial and critical success - is a perfect centerpiece for this drama. Edgy and vulnerable, mercurial and uncompromising, she's the heroine of a fervent cult and a classic potential victim of the crass music business.

Despite her initial impact - Tidal sold nearly 3 million copies and earned her a Grammy for the song "Criminal" - Apple was a high-maintenance renegade, refusing to play by the record industry's rules. That earned her ridicule from the mainstream and loyalty from fans that identified with her idealism and emotional openness.

So it's understandable that there would be high anticipation for her first new music in six years. Trouble is, with both Apple and her label, Sony's Epic Records, declining interview requests, it's unclear what really happened to it.

Fans blame the label, signing petitions at www.freefiona.com, charging that the album, Extraordinary Machine, submitted in May 2003, has not been released because label execs didn't think it would sell enough to justify its costs. The label counters that Apple's submission was a work-in-progress, not a completed recording.

The matter became an issue when two tracks from the collection appeared on the Internet last year, followed by the entire 11-song album earlier this year.

A short statement released earlier this month said simply: "Epic is continuing to work with Fiona's management toward the release of this project."

The company has warned Web sites that post the music that they face legal action.

If the saga is cloudy, the music itself is unambiguously potent. If Extraordinary Machine eventually comes out in anything close to the form downloadable from the Web, it will mark a striking artistic advance for an already formidable musician.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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