Surprisingly, Muscato is quite levelheaded for being such a superfan. He sees his cause as a reflection of the philosophy that musicians ought to be able to be creative without label constraints, but the way he defends Apple also illustrates the modern-day music fan's sense of total entitlement to an artist's work. "Fiona's music deserves to be heard, whether or not Sony believes they can make a buck in the process," Muscato tells the Pitch.
Muscato says that through FreeFiona.com, he's doing all he can to see that Extraordinary Machine is released, whether Sony sells the album to some other label or decides to free Apple from its Epic label. Muscato has even begun researching the possibilities of buying out her contract himself.
Compounding the dilemma is that neither Apple nor Sony has commented to the public on the Extraordinary Machine debacle. It's fishy that a major label would dismiss one of its multiplatinum musician's anticipated albums with nary a word. This kind of twaddle inevitably gets an album, official or not, some due notice (see Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot). Rumors have even circulated that someone involved in the recording process, maybe Apple herself, leaked the album to the Internet to generate a similar buzz.
Despite half-assed efforts to suppress its online distribution, the album has been easier to get than bathtub crank in eastern Jackson County. As Fiona junkies in our own right, we've found that, for all the hype, the stuff's good but not great. A few of the songs are basically filler, seemingly written in haste (forced out, perhaps -- we're all speculating). Others, however, especially "Extraordinary Machine" and "Please Please Please," show a growth in Apple's abilities that absolves any lapse between this album and 1999's exquisite (and legal) When the Pawn ... . The talents of producer Jon Brion blaze across the disc; his string and percussion arrangements are reliably top-notch, and his work lends freshness to Apple's sound. Apple's vocals show growth, too.
Regardless of what Sony execs may believe, this is an accessible album -- a couple of the songs could easily work on the radio. In fact, Extraordinary Machine probably would hold up a tad better than a couple of Sony releases that made it to the top of 2003's charts: for example, Now, That's What I Call Music, Vol. 11 or B2K's Pandemonium.
Sony, baby, what are you smokin'?