Fiona Apple's unreleased third album is all over the Net now, liberated by copyright unbelievers. Some posting the music to their blogs are conflicted: They satisfy their craving for Apple's music, knowing she'll see not one penny, but they justify their deeds. After all, they will say, she's being held captive by Sony Music, which has insisted that Apple never even turned in a third album and then summarily shelved these wondrous recordings made with producer Jon Brion between '03 and '04.
Once more, with more feeling than is tolerable at times, Apple blurs the line between love and hate; she kisses till she draws blood, hugs till she breaks bones, caresses till it feels like a slap across the jaw. "I've been cryin' blue, but all I can see is red, red, red, red," she sings, the heartbroken girl, as always, out for vengeance. But this time, Brion softens the blow, wrapping Apple and her piano in lush arrangements that turn these murder-of-love ballads into showtunes and carnival melodies and waltzes and torch songs and Disneyfied ditties. So whatever this is -- finished gem or phony diamond, grassroots campaign or PR-machine product -- dismiss the attendant noise and focus only on what's here, which happens to be a miniature masterpiece.