Fiona Apple, “I Want You”. 2006.

Fiona Apple covered this song at an Elvis Costello tribute, with Elvis himself on guitar, and took the harshest post-breakup song I’ve ever heard in a completely different direction without changing a word. In the original, Elvis’s delivery is flat, defeated, beaten-down, the sound of a man who’s been crying. Even when he sings a line that sounds like a dig, it comes off like a pathetic little bump of aggression that immediately fizzles out without having helped. But Fiona Apple threw in as much inflamed emotion as she could. She’s just as destroyed, but where Costello is crumpled up in a fetal position, Apple’s a wounded animal, lashing out blindly. Costello didn’t have the strength to sound angry; Apple doesn’t have the strength not to.

I always wonder how much of this is Apple giving a performance and how much of this is Apple tapping into genuine distress. To say she gives it her all is an understatement; by the end, she looks emotionally drained, making the kinds of faces that are normally reserved for your worst days.

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