Song of the Day #708: ‘Fast As You Can’ – Fiona Apple

I love Fiona Apple’s work for many reasons. Primary among them is her voice. And not just the quality of her voice (which, she’d be the first to admit, is not technically perfect) but the way she uses it to convey the passion and pathos in her songs.

I also love her choice of instrumentation. The production on her albums is top-notch and she always manages to surround her piano with strings, horns, interesting percussion… all kinds of sonic goodies that feel somehow old-fashioned and ahead of their time all at once. Jon Brion deserves a lot of that credit, I think, but he’s actually produced only one of her three albums and they all share a similar vibe.

And I love Apple’s songwriting, especially her use of shifting time signatures. I don’t know why more songwriters don’t make use of this technique… changing the focus and tempo of a song in midstream. Sting is one artist who comes to mind and I love it when he does it as well. Maybe it’s not everybody’s cup of tea.

‘Fast As You Can’ has one of the most dramatic shifts in a Fiona Apple song. The main section is frantic and hurried, almost rap-like in its pacing, but then she hits the “sometimes my mind don’t shake and shift” verse and it’s a whole new ballgame. That bridge contains one of Apple’s finest vocal performances on an album (When the Pawn…) that is packed to the gills with fine vocal performances.

I let the beast in too soon
I don’t know how to live
Without my hand on his throat
I fight him always and still

O darling, it’s so sweet
You think you know how crazy
How crazy I am

You say you don’t spook easy
You won’t go, but I know
And I pray that you will

Fast as you can, baby
Run-free yourself of me
Fast as you can

I may be soft in your palm
But I’ll soon grow hungry for a fight, and I will not let you win
My pretty mouth will frame the phrases that will disprove your faith in man
So if you catch me trying to find my way into your heart from under your skin

Fast as you can, baby
Scratch me out, free yourself
Fast as you can
Fast as you can
Baby scratch me out, free yourself
Fast as you can

Sometimes my mind don’t shake and shift
But most of the time, it does
And I get to the place where I’m begging for a lift
Or I’ll drown in the wonders and the was

And I’ll be your girl, if you say it’s a gift
And you give me some more of your drugs
Yeah, I’ll be your pet, if you just tell me it’s a gift
‘Cause I’m tired of whys, choking on whys,
Just need a little because, because

I let the beast in and then
I even tried forgiving him, but it’s too soon
So I’ll fight again, again, again, again, again
And for a little while more
I’ll soar the uneven wind, complain and blame the sterile land
But if you’re getting any bright ideas, quiet dear I’m blooming within

Fast as you can, baby wait watch me, I’ll be out
Fast as I can, maybe late but at least about
Fast as you can leave me, let this thing run its route

Fast as you can, fast as you can
Fast as you can, fast as you can

4 thoughts on “Song of the Day #708: ‘Fast As You Can’ – Fiona Apple

  1. Dana says:

    I believe we had talked about this before, but, in an interview on Elvis Costello’s Spectacle, Elton John credits Laura Nyro as being the first to seriously play with changing time signatures mid-song. So, it is perhaps not surprising that Apple is considered a descendant of Nyro in that Nyro blazed the trail that Apple, along with others such as Suzanne Vega and Tori Amos, would later follow.

    Apple is, to be sure, enormously talented, and, although the intensity of her music may not always make for “easy listening,” it is a rewarding experience to make the effort to listen.

    Today’s SOTD is just wonderful–the shifting from a fast 4/4 to the bridge’s 6/8 is just super cool, but I think that if the song were divided into two different songs, both parts would make great songs. The parts together, however, show off Fiona’s incredible songwriting prowess.

  2. Clay says:

    Good point about Nero. On the one album I have of hers, she leaps between time signatures all over the place. And that was back in the 60s when this pop music business was in its adolescence.

  3. Amy says:

    I know I’ve made many dismissive remarks about Apple over the years as an angry young woman, more to get a rise out of this blog’s creator than because I have any strong negative feeling about the artist herself.

    This morning, however, while I listened to the song, I had an epiphany. Fiona Apple is her generation’s Virginia Woolf. Something about her lyrics, her delivery, even the artistic choices she makes in the video, all struck me as being incredibly like Woolf. And then I remembered how much teasing I’d received over the years for my appreciation of that great writer. It’s not easy to be the fan of someone who inspires great passions, especially negative ones.

    While Indigo Girls are the artists who wear their VW appreciation on their sleeves, Apple is the one who more fully embodies the actual woman. So… I’ll stop making fun of Fiona Apple if you stop making fun of Virginia Woolf 😉

    Anyway, today’s song is a great one – both as a song with a complex time signature (which means nothing to me, but I think it’s cool that Dana can identify it) and as another song in the femininst manifesto Apple has been creating over her career.

  4. Clay says:

    I don’t know enough about Virginia Woolf to appreciate the comparison but I realize that’s high praise coming from you. I hope Apple meets a happier end.

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