SAN FRANCISCO – Fiona Apple (search) is ending her curiously long hiatus from the business of making music. A year after 11 tracks were leaked onto the Internet, drawing praise from critics and fans, Epic Records (search) announced Monday that Apple's "Extraordinary Machine" will be released Oct. 4.
It's been six years since Apple's last album, "When the Pawn...," was released in 1999. Since then, the young Grammy-winning singer has been treated to a deluxe serving of the frustrations of modern music: It isn't always easy to make a beautiful songs, and creative control is a nebulous concept at best.
Last year, Apple and the multitalented producer Jon Brion (search) came up with a wonderfully complex construction of Brion's vision and Apple's voice. But after months of silence from Apple and Epic parent Sony on a release date, all 11 songs popped up on the Internet, in high-quality MP3s, freely available for anyone who couldn't wait another minute. And there was not an iTunes (search) link to be seen.
The Internet had proved to be the most extraordinary machine of all.
Moreover, the album was very good. Tracks titled "Oh Sailor" and "Please, Please, Please" ooze the same sullen sultriness that made Apple's debut album, "Tidal," triple-platinum.
How the album got online is a question that gets fingers pointing in all directions. What is known is that only Apple, Brion, recording engineers and the label had access to the songs — and Apple is now moving forward without Brion.
The album now has 12 songs. One is new, and nine are reworked versions of leaked tracks.
"Now that my album is finally finished, I am very, very excited to have people hear what we did. I am so proud of it, and all of us who worked on it," Apple said in a short statement released Monday.
Through Epic, Apple refused several interview requests from The Associated Press.
Mike Elizondo is Apple's new producer, a curious departure from Brion, who has worked with artists such as Aimee Mann and David Byrne. Elizondo cut his teeth working under superproducer Dr. Dre, and most of his work has been with rappers such as 50 Cent and Obie Trice.
Brion also wouldn't talk about his involvement with Apple's upcoming album. But his publicist, Ray Costa, denies Brion leaked the album.
"That's one sore subject with him," Costa said, acknowledging the persistent rumors. And Brion insists that the version of "Extraordinary Machine" available online has been tweaked, and does not represent the music he and Apple created.
"The version that's out there right now has been additionally manipulated even from what Jon had done before," Costa said. "Whether the album comes out, Jon's done his part."
Some die-hard Apple fans say what they've already heard was plenty good enough. Many of them posted links to the MP3s songs on their personal web pages. Other released the entire album — including some homespun album cover art — over the Bittorrent file-sharing network.
Nadja Dee Tanaka of Seattle posted all 11 of the "Extraordinary Machine" MP3s on her Web site. She even went a step further to get Apple's music out to fans.
"A lot of people, I would burn a disc and send it to them if they would cover the postage for me," said Tanaka, a 42-year-old film industry professional. She said the Apple downloads reached about 5,000 per day at its peak.
Tanaka begrudgingly took the links down after receiving a notice from the Recording Industry Association of America.
"I was scared. I was angry," Tanaka said.
She might have been a bit confused as well. At the time it was made, no one would confirm Apple had even made the recordings, much less delivered them to the label.
If no new Apple material existed, what were downloaders being asked to stop downloading?
And it remains unclear if the RIAA went after the original album leaker with the same vigor it went after Tanaka and other Apple fans, like Lane Collins of San Francisco, who saw the long delay in bringing "Extraordinary Machine" to stores as an extraordinary pain.
"From a fan perspective, what I see is that they put a lot of money into having her record this music," said Collins, a 23-year-old photography student. "I think it's silly to leave it on the shelf, when they've already invested in it."