Fiona Apple – Tidal 25th Anniversary
First released July 1996
In a phrase that has found a reoccurrence in our popular lexicon, sixteenth century French poet Guillame De Saullause Du Bartes famously claimed that “the eyes are the window to the soul.” If that is true then we get an immediate glimpse into the-then eighteen year old Fiona Apple’s the minute we pick up her debut album, “Tidal,” with her pale blue eyes zoomed right in on, and looking right at you.
Of course, it is more than the artwork that makes this album one of the most personal and intimate of the mid-Nineties. Apple was irreverant, outspoken, unflinching in talking about experiences, but to back it up Tidal was a masterwork that showed, for all her era-defining icon potential, Apple’s music was a deeply mature and considered form, blending her contemporaries with jazz prowess and preference for slow burning forms over cheerleader rhythms.
First and foremost – yes, Tidal is a teenage break-up album, raking over the fragments of Apple’s broken relationship. This sounds almost reductive, though – after all she captures the range of with grit and honesty, and a powerhouse vocal range. Opener Sleep To Dream opens with the line “I tell you how I feel but you don’t care,” before she unpicks the hellish fabric of a relationship full of insulting humiliation. Rather than opting for a tear-stained ballad, though, Apple is defiant about not being oppressed in this smouldering opener.
Shifting into the softer, more reflective Sullen Girl, Apple sings of calm and tranquility, but in a way that is under the waves, beneath oblivion. Its a desperately sad, movingly minimal reflection on what is clearly a wider state of mind. Mulling over the question “is that why they call me a sullen girl?”, its almost a reflection on the image that would come to be, and a contemplation on societies inconsiderations.
The most famous singles launched from Tidal, Shadowboxer and Criminal, are also perhaps the most reflective of the album as a whole. Shadowboxer is a beautiful, minimal modern jazz record which sees her still caught up in the painful spell of one “once a lover, now a friend.” Criminal is almost a flipside, her holding her own hands up as the guilty party who has been “careless with a delicate man.” In spite of her claims of needing redemption, there is something hugely unapologetic about her confessions of being a “bad girl”, especially when twinned with the iconic video of a seemingly partied-out, but beautiful Apple in full house party mode which taps right into the core nineties aesthetic.
If it is the first half of the album that shows the most commercial potential, and vocal power over the more subtle, brooding half which shows the full maturity of Apple’s songwriting, that makes her delicate age at the time of writing almost beyond belief. Pale September is a gently brooding ballad, where The Child is Gone is a low key piece of piano-led songwriting full of contradictory yearnings – both to be helped out of the mess and to also be left “sinking into the silence.” The lyrical themes of feeling like a stranger to oneself is something familiar to anyone who has struggled against the tides of depression. The connotations of the title are equally moving, given Apple was raped aged thirteen and has talked about developing her eating disorder to “rid herself of sexual bait.”
Tidal ends, powerfully, with a corpse. Carrion is the end of a relationship, the decaying victim of another creatures kill; a symbol for the decay of her feelings for her partner. The relationship can’t be bought back by a seance, she tells us in a haunting, moonlit fashion. Minimal and measured, with a lilting jazz chorus, its grotesque metaphors twinned with an aural beauty. Its an apt end for a remarkable record, carried by universal themes communicated with an astonishing maturity that helps keep it lyrically and musically timeless 25 years on.
All words by Amy Britton. Find more on her archive here.