We're all conditioned to assume the stupidity of major label executives, but do they really need to make it so easy to hate them? By indefinitely shelving "Extraordinary Machine," the third record by platinum-selling Fiona Apple, reportedly because they felt it lacked a single -- the ultimate commerce-over-art logic, but also, in this day and age, increasingly irrelevant -- the Sony suits turned Apple into a cause célèbre, and revealed themselves, again, as hopeless corporate goons. Now that the whole record has leaked, we all have a chance to finally evaluate the music that Sony has been withholding.
The record was produced by notorious perfectionist Jon Brion, widely accepted as a pop genius, and it's a tour de force, overwhelmingly detailed, overflowing with ear candy and sonic curlicues, a huge cathedral on which every inch is covered with ornate stonework. But it's also, to my ears, somewhat overworked. Brion's compulsive need to gild the lily and then dip it in chocolate and gild it again gives the record a labored feel, especially since most of the songs are ADD-ishly unfocused and often melodically lacking. Fan and blog response to the record has been rapturous -- everyone seems to agree that it's Apple's best yet -- but I find it almost unlistenably fatiguing. That's not to say, though, that Sony's shelving of the record is any less absurd. Apple has a devoted, massive fan base, and with or without a single, this record would sell. Aside from showing an insulting lack of faith in a valuable artist, the Sony execs are just creating another Wilco-style martyr out of a musician who had already made the company millions, spectacularly reaffirming their stupidity in the process.