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Extraordinary Machine [Bonus Tracks] ()

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Like Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot before it, Fiona Apple's third album, Extraordinary Machine, turned into an Internet legend as fans leaked the unreleased record as labels left it on the shelves. Since Wilco's album notoriously remained unreleased because their label deemed it uncommercial, Apple fans who were patiently waiting a long, long time for new material were convinced that her label, Epic, was withholding a masterpiece because they also thought it was uncommercial. And, based on the version of Extraordinary Machine that was widely leaked on the internets in early 2005, if Epic indeed harbored suspicions that the album was uncommercial, they were not wrong -- although Apple reunited with her When the Pawn producer, Jon Brion, for Extraordinary Machine, the original sessions for the album found the singer/songwriter and producer both indulging in their worst tendencies, creating deliberately difficult, obtuse, baroque art-pop with so many creaky details and elliptical melodies that it barely let listeners into their world. It was the kind of record that devoted fans -- say, the kind that will start a website called FreeFiona.com to petition a record label to release an album -- would dissect endlessly, but it was too insular to appeal to even those who passionately loved her second album, which was already dismissed in some quarters as too arty. But the leaked album and FreeFiona did result in considerable media attention for the reclusive singer/songwriter, and put both Epic and Fiona Apple in the position to revive the project, since it proved that there was an audience for the album, giving Fiona artistic confidence and Epic the hope of recouping the 800,000 dollars they'd already sunk into the album. So, Apple ditched most of the Brion productions -- according to the flurry of articles to promote its fall release, this was her decision, not the label's, since she was unhappy with the recordings, which is why the album remained unfinished and unreleased for years -- teamed up with producer Mike Elizondo, best known for his productions with Eminem and 50 Cent but also a sideman on records by Sheryl Crow, Gwen Stefani, and Avril Lavigne, and finally finished the record.To say that the released version of Extraordinary Machine is a marked improvement over the bootlegged version is not to say that it sounds more complete -- after all, the Brion productions sounded finished, as evidenced by the two cuts that were retained; the intricate chamber pop of the opening title track and the closing "Waltz (Better Than Fine)" are the only time Brion's productions not only suited but enhanced Fiona's songs -- but to say that they're not only more accessible, but more fully realized, letting Apple's songs breathe in a way they didn't on the original sessions. While Brion's productions were interesting, they stretched his carnivalesque aesthetic to the limit, ultimately obscuring Apple's songs, which were already fussier, artier, and more oblique than her previous work. When matched to Brion's elaborately detailed productions, her music became an impenetrable wall of sound, but Elizondo's productions open these songs up, making it easier to hear Apple's songs while retaining most of her eccentricities. Now, Extraordinary Machine sounds like a brighter, streamlined version of When the Pawn, lacking the idiosyncratic arrangement and instrumentation of that record, yet retaining the artiness of the songs themselves. Like her second record, this album is not immediate; it takes time for the songs to sink in, to let the melodies unfold and decode her laborious words (she still has the unfortunate tendency to overwrite: "A voice once stentorian is now again/Meek and muffled"). Unlike the Brion-produced sessions, peeling away the layers on Extraordinary Machine is not hard work, since it not only has a welcoming veneer, but there are plenty of things that capture the imagination upon the first listen -- the pulsating piano on "Get Him... Hide synopsis

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