Before “tidal” became known as a music streaming service, it was already a hallmark word within the music world because of Fiona Apple’s debut album. Anchored by the visual brand of her piercing, haunting stare, Tidal (which turns 20 today) was, among other things, a freaky female singer-songwriter vision in a long tradition of the like; a tribute to the ’90s waif aesthetic in sound and image; home of the best opening line in lyrical history: “I’ve been a bad, bad girl…”
Tidal is an album in the true sense of the word, in that every song can holds its own against the others. Which doesn’t mean that there aren’t standouts: Beyond “Criminal,” opener “Sleep To Dream,” “Shadowboxer,” and “Slow Like Honey” are also genius, as is pretty much the rest of the album. (Oh, is that a cop out? My bad.) If you can put on Tidal and actually skip tracks, you’re missing out on Apple’s mastery of mood and her amazing, flexible lyricism. She’s a chameleon, trying on and shedding innocence, anger, and some kind of joy. It’s something that she’d perfect as the years and albums went on, but as a debut out of the gate, Tidal is still something else, a cut above just about every other debut of its kind.
While Apple’s success is underscored by millions of regular listeners, one of our favorite artists also paid homage to Tidal on its 20th anniversary:
What Solange and many, many others have latched onto is Apple’s incredible gift for naming not just emotion, but contextualizing it within a particular kind of youthful melancholy, both in the music and lyrics. Her piano is never perfunctory; her lyrics exist both as a part and apart from her voice, which is an incredible instrument on its own. That she uses it in service of naming and confronting the uglier parts of the human psyche isn’t particularly innovative, but that it’s that voice and those parts of the psyche is. She sings like someone who’s lived for a thousand years, but writes about the here and now from a rarefied, and lyrically rewarding, view.
Though Apple is not, on the surface, a political singer, her brand of unfiltered and sly femininity is one that’s been revelatory to many a sad girl and sad woman, reaching beyond that sadness to find solace, and perhaps even power. As Tidal turns twenty, it’s worth reflecting on who in our current musical generation can even begin to approach her debut, let alone Apple now. I don’t think anyone has, and I don’t think anyone ever will.