Critics have thrown more than a few pejoratives at Fiona Apple. They've called her a brat, a drama queen, a recluse, a waif and numerous other comments. But it's not likely that any of them would accuse the singer of being lifeless.
Well, that's exactly what she is in the video for "O' Sailor," the first proper single from her latest album, Extraordinary Machine (the quickie live clip for "Parting Gift" was a teaser). In it, Apple plays a sullen ghost, morosely wandering the ocean liner Queen Mary.
The ambiguous, dreamlike video — filmed over two days in Long Beach, California, last month — was directed by Floria Sigismondi in her signature macabre style. The director recently helmed the White Stripes' "Blue Orchid" and has masterminded iconic clips for Marilyn Manson ("The Beautiful People"), Christina Aguilera, Interpol and others.
"It's a ghost story," Sigimondi said. "It's Fiona singing from a place where her lover has thrown her overboard and left her to sink, drown and die. She haunts this big, old ship."
As ghostly plumes of smoke envelope the ship's corridors, a pale and ghostly Apple — dressed in an elegant silk gown and looking like 1940s starlet Veronica Lake — listlessly meanders past the ship's crew. The presence of water is implied, but never actually shown. Sigismondi, who was specifically chosen by Apple to lens the clip, wanted the story to be nebulous.
"You don't know if the sailors are really there, or if she's there alone and they're memories that she's singing about," the director said. "She's sort of there in spirit. I got really attached to the line [in the chorus], 'Letting it go by the boards' — a phrase that sailors use for throwing something overboard that they don't need."
Eventually, the video segues into a surreal dance sequence (choreographed by Michael Rooney, who also designed the chorus-line dance moves for Apple's "Paper Bag" clip) where the sailors trap and hang Apple in a chandelier, from which she sings forlornly about her former lover.
While the clip isn't as creepy as some of Sigismondi's previous videos, it's certainly darker than any of Apple's. "It's not that spooky," Sigismondi said. "But her performance is really heartfelt. It's an emotional video, like the emotional song. It has a lot of wounded soul, and that's what I tried to convey."
Meanwhile, the long backstory behind the making of Extraordinary Machine — an early version of which leaked online before most of the songs were re-recorded — looks like it might have a happy ending.
Apple said she's asked Jon Brion, who produced the album's original sessions, to compile his version of the LP with an eye toward releasing it in the not-too-distant future (see "Fiona Apple's Long-Delayed LP Slotted For October 4 Release").
"Then Jon and I can go in and mix them the way we want," Apple said. "I really think it would be cool to compare [the two versions]."
According to both Apple and Brion, this version would be much different from the one that leaked online in February (see "Fiona Apple's Extraordinary Songs Leaked On The Radio"). "People assume they have a [completed] record when they don't," Brion told MTV News, noting that the leaked version was missing key instrumental tracks and contained unauthorized mixes and overdubs. He recently told WNYC-FM in New York that he believes his version of the album will be released next year, and a source noted that it's possible the album will be a digital-only release. Brion also may play some dates with Apple on her tour this fall (see "Fiona Apple Announces Extraordinary Tour Dates").
"I think that I actually got really lucky to have two versions of these songs," Apple said. "Nobody really gets to do that — not on purpose, anyway. And if somebody likes one or the other better, it doesn't make a difference to me, really. I think it gives them both more attention. I lucked out a little bit."
Check out "Fiona Apple: The People's Champ".