When deciding what album to review for this week, I couldn’t help but land upon another Fiona Apple album. This time, I’ll be covering her debut album, Tidal, released in 1996. The album was released when Apple was only eighteen years old, and delves into topics like trauma, love and deception.
The opening track, “Sleep to Dream,” is comprised of Apple’s first lyrics, which she penned when she was fourteen. The song features a strong drum beat and details Apple moving on from an unhealthy relationship. She criticizes her lover for having their “head in the clouds” and living a duplicitous life with conflicting ideals. In the end, her power wins out as “this mind, this body and this voice cannot be stifled by your devious ways.” In the third track, “Shadowboxer,” she similarly critiques a lover for tempting her despite their negative qualities. She describes being on her guard constantly, “ready for what you do.” Ultimately, she wins out over her lover again, singing that “she was onto every play, I just wanted you.” In “Criminal,” arguably Apple’s most popular and catchy song, she similarly views love as a game to be played. She details her guilt for using her sexuality to get what she desires. She describes her carelessness and sinfulness casually, singing that she’d like to “suffer for her sins,” but isn’t sure where to begin. However, this experience is her only brush with romance, exemplified in the lyric “he’s all I ever knew of love.” Apple describes the sweeter side of seduction in Tidal, as well, with songs like “The First Taste.” The song describes the tantalizing part of having a crush and wanting an admission of their affection. She waits for a sign of their feelings, but until then lies “in an early bed, thinking late thoughts” about the object of her affection.
Apple also explores depression and trauma throughout the album and received praise for exploring such complex topics at a young age. The second track, “Sullen Girl,” explores the complexity of Apple’s emotions that fester beneath the surface. She acknowledges that those around her view her as a “sullen girl” but throughout the song makes it clear that they are unaware of her true feelings underneath the surface. Apple has been open about her experience with trauma in her childhood, and this song explores the guarded nature of those experiences. This phenomenon is examined further in “The Child is Gone,” as Apple shares how trauma has forced her to grow up faster. Despite the pain in her past, the song is optimistic, as Apple sings that the “darkness turns into the dawn” and she can move towards new experiences. Apple finds hope in “Pale September” as well. She describes her “armor falling down,” which can be read in both a positive and negative light. Although this is painful, it allows for her to let others in and find companionship.
Tidal was the first Fiona Apple album I heard and remains one of my favorites due to its clear portrayal of pain and acceptance. It functions as a coming-of-age album, but the songs have held up over the many years I’ve listened to them.