Fiona Apple's debut album, Tidal, was released on July 23, 1996 by the Clean Slate division of Sony Music. Apple herself wrote all of its ten tracks throughout her youth. She was first brought to the attention of recording industry officials when a friend who babysat for a Sony executive brought her demo tape with her. Most of the songs on that tape ended up on Tidal.

Tidal's musical and vocal orchestration is relatively complex, though not to the extent of the complexities employed on her followup, 1999's When the Pawn.... The album is classified as rock, though Apple's influences include blues, classical and jazz arts. The heavy use of piano on nearly every track is one of the album's only unifying elements; Apple experiments with different styles and genres throughout it.

Tidal was a relatively successful album, spawning three Top 40 singles and winning Apple a Grammy for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance. Critics praised her musical skill, however the most common criticism of the album involved her compositional skills. Many suggested that had she at least had help with songwriting, the album would have been more focused.


  1. "Sleep to Dream" - 4:03
  2. "Sullen Girl" - 3:53
  3. "Shadowboxer" - 5:24
  4. "Criminal" - 5:41
  5. "Slow Like Honey" - 5:56
  6. "The First Taste" - 4:46
  7. "Never Is a Promise" - 5:54
  8. "The Child is Gone" - 4:14
  9. "Pale September" - 5:50
  10. "Carrion" - 5:43

Track by Track

Sleep to Dream
Apple's reputation for angst may be partially due to the fact that her debut album opens with a track that sounds like an angry letter. The instrumentation is reasonably simple, making use of piano, percussion and bass. Its subject matter refers to the misconception that she is overly idealistic and knows little about love, and that this in turn has led to disinterest on the part of her partner. The song makes use of the low end of Apple’s contralto range.

Sullen Girl
This song is one of the most personal on the album and, moreover, in Apple’s entire repertoire. It contains the most direct references she has ever made to the fact that she was raped in the hallway of her apartment building at the age of 12. The rest of the song deals with the issue of personality and the serenity she finds within herself; she ponders whether or not her ’anti-social’ tendencies are to blame for people’s opinions of her. The song has a far more relaxed tempo and pace than “Sleep to Dream” and is executed using piano, drums and pitched percussion such as marimbas.

The jazz-influenced track showcases Apple’s formidable vocal range, as it begins in her lower register and climbs higher with its refrain. Though it doesn’t use the highest part of her range (like “Never Is a Promise” will, four tracks from now), the contrast displayed is one of her trademarks. The musical orchestration and execution is simple; the piano part (which is the most prominent musical backing) seems to consist mainly of chords and does not really contribute to the melody. The song does include strings in its background but these are not really prominent. “Shadowboxer” is clearly about the anxiety that comes with on-again-off-again relationships and the uncertainty of not knowing if or when things might pick up again. It seems to owe its structure at least partially to 40s jazz ballads.

“Criminal” was the most successful track on Tidal, and is often considered to be Apple’s most successful song to date. Its orchestration is easily the most ornate and complex on the album, as it includes horns, winds, strings and a rhythm section. She sings of love gone wrong and the intense guilt she feels because of her part in the wrongdoing. It is a fusion of Apple’s jazz, blues and rock influences but comes off sounding unlike any one particular genre. It’s also one of the album’s longer tracks, and roughly a minute and a half at the end is entirely instrumental. It’s also during this instrumental part that her pianism shines through with the rhythmic use of chromatic scales over the rhythm parts. The video for “Criminal” is widely considered to be Apple’s most successful, despite the controversy that surrounded its depiction of her and various other “model-like” teenagers wearing very little clothing while on the set of what appears to be amateur porn. “I’ve been a bad, bad girl” indeed.

Slow Like Honey
Apple experiments with triple meter time frequently on Tidal; “Slow Like Honey” is yet another example of this. As its title suggests, it is played slower than most of the other tracks on the album. The prominent use of bass and low vocals contributes to a sultry mood and atmosphere. Most of the lyrics seem to be almost whispered, though she picks up the volume at the bridge. She sings of dreaming of her love and awaiting their next encounter. She also mentions possible problems with the relationship, but for the most part this seems to be a song about anything other than complete heartbreak and misery. This is one of her strongest vocal performances on Tidal; she couples the lower register main vocals with harmonies in the highest end of her range at the very end. Its orchestration is mainly simplistic, using piano, bass, percussion and marimba. Like at the end of “Criminal,” she makes use of piano arpeggios at the very end.

The First Taste
The sixth track is undeniably unlike the others, as it has more of an “island rhythm” to it. This is accomplished through the use of pitched percussion (including xylophone) and other forms of drumming. Its bridge is sung a capella and provides a stark contrast to the rest of the song and its rhythm in that, like the end of various other songs, it includes Apple singing double tracked harmonies with herself. Again, the harmonies are much higher than the melody. As is the case with other songs on the album, the actual “sung” part of the album does not last for the entire duration of the track and at least a minute at the song’s end is entirely instrumental. Apple sings of love that has yet to begin and of waiting to learn whether or not her intended will return her affection and make the first move.

Never Is a Promise
Though it was not as commercially successful as “Criminal,” “Sleep to Dream” and “Shadowboxer,” “Never Is a Promise” is one of the best remembered and loved songs on Tidal. It is easily the most lyrical song on the album and its heavy use of strings and lack of percussion distinguishes it from the other tracks. The entire song is executed through the use of strings, piano and vocals. Unlike on other songs, the piano also becomes a focal point rather than a rhythmic companion. Another key difference is Apple’s frequent use of the higher end of her range; the lowest points make use of the medium range and one part near its conclusion involves the highest sung note on the entire album. “Never Is a Promise” is about the tragedy of fading love and the realizations that one’s relationship possibly isn’t as perfect as one originally thought it was and that one’s partner doesn’t really know much about who they are.

The Child is Gone
Though “The Child is Gone” also seems to deal with the loss of innocence and while many fans and reviewers have speculated that it may allude to the fact that Apple was raped as a pre-teen, she has never confirmed this. With this track, she returns to the slightly more jazz-like orchestration and vocal styling. It also marks the return to her lower vocal register after the high notes in “Never Is a Promise.” This somehow makes some of the lyrics seem more appropriate and allows for subliminal connections between the “return to form” and the message behind the words. For the most part, “The Child is Gone” is one of the more simply orchestrated tracks, including extremely jazz-influenced percussion parts.

Pale September
The orchestration on this track is extremely simple and yet powerful at the same time. Apple’s voice is the most prominent instrument on this track, as she plays repetitive riffs on the piano and the percussion volume is kept to a minimum. There seems to be some kind of correlation between track volumes and its lyricism, as this song is yet another of the album’s lyrical gems. (This is not a fair generalization, however, as “Criminal” is one of the “loudest” tracks on Tidal and it too involves some of her best lyrical work). Apple proves that she is perhaps at her best when being quiet and introspective; the chorus’ references to sleep aside, this song does come off as having lullaby-like qualities. There is, again, frequent use of pitched percussion but this is done in a subtle manner so as not to distract from the song’s most important qualities.

There is a sort of symmetry on Tidal; it begins and ends with songs that reiterate Apple’s independence from and lack of need from someone who has wronged her in the past. “Carrion”’s main simile is probably one of the most descriptive (and, as others might be quick to point out, graphic) in 1990s pop-rock. She insists, through her lyrics, that if she cannot do anything to help this individual from himself, she will have nothing else to do with him. The orchestration is closest in instrumentation and tempo to that of “Criminal,” in that it is one of the only other tracks on the album to make prominent use of guitars. The most striking thing about this song, however, is how well it displays Apple’s gift for musical contrast between verses and choruses. Both verses are drastically different from the refrain to the point that they might as well be considered different songs within a song. Apple would later go on to make greater use of this technique on When the Pawn….

Accolades and Packaging

“Criminal,” “Shadowboxer,” “Sleep to Dream” and “Never Is a Promise” were released as singles. The first three enjoyed the most commercial success, though all received fair amounts of airplay and were made into music videos. Tidal’s first three singles placed well on various sales charts; Criminal peaked at number 4 on “Modern Rock Tracks” and won Apple a Grammy for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance. As mentioned, its video featured her and various other scantily clad teenagers wandering around a room. It scared a few people. Apple also performed this track at the 1997 Grammy Awards after having shed her shoes by the microphone stand. That scared a few people too, but her speech at the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards was by far the most controversial part of her Tidal-era career.

The album’s cover features an extreme close-up of Apple’s face. Only part of her forehead down to the top half of her mouth are visible. I honestly believed she didn’t have hair until I saw the other pictures in the liner notes. The album’s back cover features the tracklist and a medium close-up; this one doesn’t include any of her hair either as her face is framed in the top right-hand corner. The album’s booklet features lyrics, personnel lists, and an extremely brief set of thank-yous from Apple.

The album also included a CD Extra that enabled people to read lyrics and watch videos on their computers.

Tidal (album) – Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tidal_%28album%29 April 28, 2005
I’ve owned this album since I was 12.

Tid"al (?), a.

Of or pertaining to tides; caused by tides; having tides; periodically rising and falling, or following and ebbing; as, tidal waters.

The tidal wave of deeper souls Into our inmost being rolls, And lifts us unawares Out of all meaner cares. Longfellow.

Tidal air Physiol., the air which passes in and out of the lungs in ordinary breathing. It varies from twenty to thirty cubic inches. -- Tidal basin, a dock that is filled at the rising of the tide. -- Tidal wave. (a) See Tide wave, under Tide. Cf. 4th Bore. (b) A vast, swift wave caused by an earthquake or some extraordinary combination of natural causes. It rises far above high-water mark and is often very destructive upon low-lying coasts. <-- called in Japan tsunami. -->


© Webster 1913.

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