Time for a Fiona Apple update: On Monday, Epic Records announced that her long-shelved third record, "Extraordinary Machine," which was widely leaked and widely loved earlier this year, will finally see official release on Oct. 4. One catch: It's not actually the same record. Two of the tracks will be from the leaked session, which Jon Brion produced. The rest, other than one completely new tune, are rerecorded versions of the same songs, produced by Mike Elizondo with some additional production work by Brian Kehew. Yesterday two tracks from the soon to be released record, the new version of "O' Sailor" and the new song, "Parting Gift," were released on the iTunes store.
I wasn't much of a fan of the leaked record (see here), and upon thinking about it more it seems to me that Jon Brion is exactly the wrong producer for Fiona Apple. Brion is, of course, brilliant, and a far more interesting artist to me than Apple herself, but he's an immensely finicky producer, much prone to over-elaboration, and given the already finicky, often over-elaborate nature of Apple's songs, it's something of a deadly combo. That said, Brion's version of "O' Sailor," the only track we've had a chance to hear from both sessions, is vastly superior to the new one. It's taken at a slower tempo that allows the melody to breathe a bit, its lurching, irregular beat is far more interesting than the stolid, ordinary drum part on the Elizondo version, it has a better, richer piano sound, a far more satisfying climax there's really no contest.
How this saga actually unfolded remains a mystery, with Apple confining herself to a statement about how proud she is of the record and "all of us who worked on it." Perhaps she was genuinely dissatisfied with Brion's work, or perhaps she caved to pressure from her label to record more straightforward versions of the songs. Either way I'd have thought that Brion would be miffed, and yet Apple has made surprise appearances at two of his recent shows to sing some of her songs, and the two are even rumored to be dating. No doubt there will be a host of competing stories in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.