***, FIONA APPLE "Tidal," Work/Clean Slate

Apple may be an 18-year-old newcomer, but she's nobody's ingenue. The dark, moody tales of romantic obsession and betrayal on her debut album suggest that this singer-songwriter has already packed a lot more experience and intrigue into her life than most of her peers have. "I've been a bad, bad girl," she purrs on the mid-tempo vamp "Criminal," with the sultry authority of a young woman who borrows lingerie from her older girlfriends and plays hooky with her male teachers.

While her naughty, defiant edge will probably inspire comparisons to Alanis Morissette, Apple's relatively literate lyrics and spare, brooding arrangements evoke more sophisticated influences. Traces of PJ Harvey are evident in Apple's low, breathy voice, which is often startlingly precocious in its ability to project bitter irony and passionate yearning. And Apple is also an intuitive pianist, lacing eerie ballads such as "The Child Is Gone" and more upbeat numbers such as the gently funky "Sleep to Dream" with subtle but provocative chords.

Occasionally Apple does sound corny or overzealous, and we're reminded that she's still a kid. But just think of how formidable she'll be with a few more years of troublemaking under her belt.


Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

* TimesLine 808-8463

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