Pianist, singer and songwriter Fiona Apple's second album, released in 1999, set a record for nearly a decade. The full title of "When the Pawn Hits " was the longest album title, until releases by Soulwax, then Chumbawamba, replaced its status as an answer to trivia questions. The album, however, is rich and beautiful, and surely deserving to be remembered for more than the length of its title: It deserves to be remembered as a testament to Apple's talents in writing songs and in singing.
On the album's first track, the percussion is reminiscent of Bjork, though lurching in an effective manner. Apple bellows the choruses, husky and seemingly heartfelt, and belts the verses. On a bridge after the second verse the instrumentation is voluminous and unrepressed. The second track, "To Your Love," is sultry, lower in tone than the opening song, with pacified horns and woodwinds.
In the beginning of the third song, Apple and the musicians she's assembled continue to ratchet up the ardor. The percussion gives the track its electrifying charge. Apple's piano, when standing alone, deepens the song's mystery.
The fourth track, "Love Ridden," starts slow and, over strings, sidles as the piano builds uniformly. Apple sings, "I stood too long in the way of the door," simple, powerful and convincing. The song comes into a momentary silence, then the piano rallies and soon everything else rejoins and rediscovers the song's again powerful atmosphere.
Percussion on the album, by Butch Norton and Matt Chamberlain, pairs well with Apple's piano, and does so here again on the fifth track, "Paper Bag," in the role of carrying the song. Apple's voice carries conviction. The sixth song is funkier, on an album that frequently calls upon an impertinent, urbane aesthetic. Apple's voice still conveys a hip independence. Though the song has a tweaked-out electric guitar that doesn't suit the material well, everything else contributes nicely to a solid track.
Engaging, speedy drumming leads into the seventh song, "Fast as You Can." Apple's ably rapid-fire delivery determines the song's course, as it does on the proceeding track. The song slows, at points, into a weightier presence, commendable for an album that never truly drifts into ethereal airiness anyways. The woodwinds add a restrained richness to the song, filling it out well.
The ninth track is sadder, right from the beginning. The piano invokes a restlessness in its minimalist approach. Like the fourth track and other songs on the album, the changes in speed and tempo speaks to Apple's talent as a songwriter to effectively build to crescendos and slacken into moving stillnesses. The 10th and final song is sedate, with a pervading element of seriousness and canorous in grandeur. The piano and vocals are the driving forces. The two together, in the talents displayed in songwriting, and performing on piano and behind a microphone, sum the album up well.