Lyrically Speaking: Fiona Apple

Lyrically Speaking is a new feature that breaks down the writing style of our favorite songwriters.

Videos by American Songwriter

(“Oh you silly stupid pastime of mine, You were always good for a rhyme”)

Main Style:

Fiona Apple writes in her own elevated vocabulary. The emotionally-charged, piano-playing songbird throws around multisyllabic words like she just finished studying for the SATs. She’s a rock and roll thesaurus, whose love of language transfers to her album titles, like When The Pawn… (Full Title: When the pawn hits the conflicts he thinks like a king what he knows throws the blows when he goes to the fight and he’ll win the whole thing ‘fore he enters the ring there’s no body to batter when your mind is your might so when you go solo, you hold your own hand and remember that depth is the greatest of heights and if you know where you stand, then you know where to land and if you fall it won’t matter, cause you’ll know that you’re right) and the just announced The Idler Wheel is wiser than the Driver of the Screw, and Whipping Cords will serve you more than Ropes will ever do, due out this June.

Prime Examples:

“I’ll let you see me, I’ll covet your regard, I’ll invade your demeanor”

-“Slow Like Honey,” Tidal

“My derring-do allows me to dance the rigadoon around you, but by the time I’m close to you I lose my desideratum”

-“To Your Love,” When The Pawn…

“The shades and shadows undulate in my perception”

– “Never Is A Promise,” Tidal


2005’s long-delayed Extraordinary Machine finds Apple dialing down the wordiness, allowing her metaphors to shine:

“If there was a better way to go then it would find me
I can’t help it, the road just rolls out behind me
Be kind to me, or treat me mean
I’ll make the most of it, I’m an extraordinary machine”

She retained the habit, however, of jamming as many words as possible into her phrases, which demonstrates her impressive ear for musicality.

The least verbose song in the Apple catalog may be the straightforward “Window,” which focuses on the act of breaking a window with maniacal intensity. Or check out her stunning cover of The Beatles’ “Across The Universe” to hear her what her trademark honeyed pipes can do for the lyrics of others.

Killer Line:

“And I suddenly feel like a different person
From the roots of my soul come a gentle coercion
And I ran my hand over a strange inversion
As the darkness turns into the dawn
The child is gone”

– “The Child Is Gone,” Tidal

Worst Lyric?:

“What is this posture
I have to stare at?
That’s what he said when I was sitting up straight”

– “Not About Love,” Extraordinary Machine

The Verdict:

While Apple could be accused of overreaching, she is a unique wordsmith who has presumably raised pop music’s IQ by several points.


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