Best of the B Sides: “Paper Bag”

I wasn’t able to listen to Fiona Apple until a little over a year ago. I had friends obsessed with her in high school, but I never got it. Her music was grating, directionless, and sometimes just plain annoying. I have since changed my ways. I don’t know what happened, but one day I just got it, and while Fiona Apple’s some of the darkest and most self-destructive music you’ll probably ever come across, it’s also some of the most beautiful.

It’s hard to know with musicians with cult followings what the popular songs are. I know that “Criminal” is Apple’s big hit. I could really choose any song from any album and it would be appropriate for this week’s b side, but I’d love to take a look at “Paper Bag”. The fifth track on her 1999 sophomore album When the Pawn…, “Paper Bag” is yet another of Apple’s harrowing tales of unfulfilled love. I’m no musician, but I can recognize that the structure of this song is complex. Listening to “Paper Bag” specifically, it’s clear that Apple has extensive knowledge of jazz. She’s a smart songwriter. No two sections of any given song are the same, with the exception of “Criminal”, maybe, which is easily Apple’s most commercial song. But Apple’s career went backwards. She started as a big-time artist and with each album stepped backward into the cult audiences, each album getting more complicated and more inaccessible. The Idler Wheel…, her 2012 release, while a stunning album, is impossible to digest easily. So I’m introducing songs like “Paper Bag” this week in hopes of easing some of your journeys into the gorgeous madness of Fiona Apple. She’s a tough nut to crack, but her music is well worth it if you give it the time it needs to settle in your head.

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