When the Pawn… : Fiona Apple’s Chronology of Self-Discovery
By Sadie Gugliotta
Fiona Apple’s When the Pawn… will envelop you with its velvety, lush lyricism and deeply affecting orchestral hues. It will burrow within your chest with searing honesty and gentle rage. As opposed to the animalistic melodies of bands like Hole, Apple bestows upon us a beautifully plotted and deliberate lamentation more profound in its subtle commentary, poetic in its misery. When the Pawn… is a revelatory work of self-exploration and growth.
The album opens with “On the Bound,” a symphonic impetus muddled with self-doubt and desperation. The album’s third track, “Limp,” begins with the burbling sounds one would imagine hearing if submerged underwater, creating a distorted feeling of isolation shattered by the crescendo of anger that takes form by the chorus, exemplifying symptoms of fading infatuation and biting resentment: “I never did anything to you, man/But no matter what I try, you'll beat me with your bitter lies.” Within these songs, Apple shepherds us through her unreliable narration, illustrating the kaleidoscopic, warping effect of an abusive partnership.
Apple’s pulsing emotionality is a trademark of her work, affecting the way that she constructs the lyrical prose of her music; in “Get Gone,” Apple’s trembling vocals lend insight into a moment of revelation, chronicling the breaking point of her relationship: “How many times can it escalate/'Til it elevates to a place I can't breathe?” She gives us the obliterative and unambiguous lines, “You think you know how crazy/How crazy I am” in “Fast As You Can,'' serving us political commentary on the constant dismissal and discrediting of women in society and embodying the cultural perception of a “hysterical” woman.
Though she is an undeniable master of soulful rage, Apple is just as appealing in morose, glassy tracks like “Love Ridden” in which her mesmeric poetry is put on full display with lines like, “I've wished on the lidded blue flames under your brow/And baby, I wished for you,” mourning the unrealized potential of failed relationships alongside the scintillations of accompanying piano and orchestra. The final song of the album, “I Know,” is stripped down and bare, Apple’s lilting vocals breathing, “You can use my skin to bury secrets in/And I will settle you down.” Its funereal frailty builds in urgency, fanning the flames of emotional conflict that it has invoked, though eventually settling itself with a sense of quiet solemnity and acceptance.
When the Pawn… carries us through vignettes of vengeful rage and cooling grief, using warbling instrumentals and echoing vocals to immerse us within a world of musical texture. More than the ephemeral shimmer of Gen Z’s pop ubiquity, Apple’s albums stay with you, leaving behind the dewy residue of heartache and resilience that define them.