Fiona Becomes Unshelved
The controversy surrounding Fiona Apple’s
will return as Epic has penciled in an October 4th release date for the long delayed album. The finished version is different than the album that was leaked on the Internet. It will have nine re-recorded versions, two unchanged versions and one new song, “Parting Gift.”
Will fans of Extraordinary Machine like the changes made to the album that has been their rallying cry? Some are sure to like the original Jon Brion sessions better. It’s inevitable. Fiona, though, probably wouldn’t vote for the Brion versions. Record execs insist Fiona never considered the leaked songs to be the final versions. To her they are inferior to the older versions. To her fans that should count for a lot. Mike Elizondo, who produced the songs, said, “I think from right out of the gate, this is the collection of songs she wanted for her record.”
That opinion is a far cry from the Sony-bashing statements in the press when the album was leaked. Back then Sony was said to be holding back Fiona. “They didn’t hear a single,” people said. Now the story given is that Fiona herself held back the songs. There are a few dozen journalists who should be preparing crow
a la mode
. Only one writer—it was a
Newsweek article by Lorraine Ali
—took the angle that
wasn’t released because Fiona considered it to be incomplete. Ali quoted a source close to Fiona as saying she “was unhappy with the record and never really finished working on it,” and added that producer Jon Brion “may have leaked the CD so it would not go unheard.”
All over America commentators declared Sony a collection of idiots and Fiona a martyr wedged under the thumb of an oppressive corporate beast. The tables have been turned. Those very commentators, forever in a rush to form an opinion without first doing their homework, now look foolish for their haste.
But their idiocy has been of great service. Sony will squeeze millions of dollars of free publicity from this pundit-fueled controversy, and all it had to do was keep its mouth shut. That’s right. Sony never made a public statement beyond standard, worthless company PR speak. Fiona kept her mouth shut, too. They let the press do what it does best: Cause a scene for no good reason. Sony should give the press a big, sloppy, wet kiss for putting Fiona in the news while it used its publicists for other projects.
Some many months ago I threw out a proposal: Release rough tracks for less money, then charge a standard amount for the finished versions. Labels could then monetize the curiosity of the fence-sitters. Or rough tracks could be released to file-sharing networks ahead of an album’s release. People who downloaded them wouldn’t be in jeopardy of being sued by the RIAA, and everybody would be allowed to preview the album before deciding to buy it. I was brainstorming, just thinking of ways record labels could use digital music to their advantage.
In the case of
I wasn’t too far off. Consumers have had the luxury of previewing the album before its release. The main difference here is the album leak wasn’t a Sony-sanctioned event. Somebody, maybe Brion, let the tracks roam free. Still, the end result is the same in that fans and interested parties were given perhaps the most famous album preview in the history of recorded music. The finished album will, though, have different versions of the songs. So in a sense, fans get a bonus. They have two versions of the same album. One is endorsed by Fiona and her label, one isn’t. They can compare and contrast. They can favor one over the other. They can go through phases where they listen to one for a few months then listen to the other. They have that luxury. How many albums can offer that?
The State of Retail
recapped a few items from the recent convention of the National Association of Record Merchants. Labels did their best to convince retailers that this year’s fourth quarter is going to be big. Retailers are hoping it will be big enough to make up some ground on this year’s 8% sales lag. Another topic of conversation was the practice of giving exclusives to certain retailers. It’s a sore subject for many and it’s in no jeopardy of stopping any time soon. In light of Starbuck’s Bob Dylan exclusive the article said “word that a Garth Brooks release could be given exclusively to Wal-Mart has raised hackles as well.”