Song of the Day #229: ‘Paper Bag’ – Fiona Apple

whenthepawnI was a pretty big fan of Apple’s based on Tidal alone but when her second album came out the whole game changed.

When the Pawn…, as it is popularly known (the full title is a 90-word poem), is quite simply one of the greatest albums I’ve ever heard. And experiencing it for the first time was an unexpected pleasure. When I buy a new album, particularly the sophomore release of a young artist, I’m hoping to like it, maybe even love it ā€” I’m never expecting a masterpiece. But that’s exactly what I got.

When the Pawn… is made up of ten confessional jazzy piano songs, heavy with rhythm, shifting in tempo and tone. Jon Brion’s peerless production fills in the gaps with strings and horns and puts Apple’s amazing, and amazingly raw, vocals front and center. It feels less like a collection of songs than a suite with a definite beginning, middle and end.

‘Paper Bag’ comes in the middle. There is a moment in this song where the album shifts into high gear and never looks back. It’s the moment when the album becomes great… which is not to say that what comes before that moment is somehow lacking. Think of the record’s structure as the path of a plane ā€” it starts out on the ground, builds momentum, then takes off before flying high and coming in for a landing. The middle of this song is where the album takes off. (Specifically, it’s the section following the first chorus, where Apple hits several heavy piano chords and delivers the line “And I went crazy again today” as the horns slide in behind her).

I love these lyrics, which are dismissive of the man she’s writing about (“I thought he was a man but he was just a little boy”) while recognizing she’s not the easiest person to deal with (“I know I’m a mess he don’t wanna clean up”). And that’s such an effective expression of resignation in the chorus’ final line: “Hunger hurts, but starving works, when it costs too much to love…”

I was staring at the sky, just looking for a star
To pray on, or wish on, or something like that
I was having a sweet fix of a daydream of a boy
Whose reality I knew, was a hopeless to be hadBut then the dove of hope began its downward slope
And I believed for a moment that my chances
Were approaching to be grabbed
But as it came down near, so did a weary tear
I thought it was a bird, but it was just a paper bag

Hunger hurts, and I want him so bad, oh it kills
Cos I know I’m a mess he don’t wanna clean up
I got to fold cos these hands are too shaky to hold
Hunger hurts, but starving works, when it costs too much to love

And I went crazy again today, looking for a strand to climb
Looking for a little hope
Baby said he couldn’t stay, wouldn’t put his lips to mine,
And a fail to kiss is a fail to cope

I said, honey, I don’t feel so good, don’t feel justified
Come on put a little love here in my void,
He said “Its all in your head,” and I said, “So’s everything”
But he didn’t get it
I thought he was a man but he was just a little boy

Hunger hurts, and I want him so bad, oh it kills
Cos I know I’m a mess he don’t wanna clean up
I got to fold cos these hands are too shaky to hold
Hunger hurts, but starving works, when it costs too much to love

 

3 thoughts on “Song of the Day #229: ‘Paper Bag’ – Fiona Apple

  1. Amy says:

    I guess this is one of those rare cases where iTunes gets it right? Two days into Fiona Apple week and you feature the song I know and like best by Apple, and I don’t know much of her work.

    That said, I agree that she’s an amazingly talented songwriter and singer; she just tends to be a bit dark and brooding for my taste. Or at least that’s how I’ve perceived her. This song does indeed take flight, and it’s fascinating to know that it is the moment where the whole album does the same.

    And thank you for featuring it, despite the fact that I know it and love it ;-P

  2. Dana says:

    After this review, I feel I now must go back and listen to the album from start to finish. Another great song from Ms. Apple!

  3. pegclifton says:

    She has a great sound, I enjoyed this song a lot.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s