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The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do

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Album Review

So much of the drama surrounding Fiona Apple's third album, Extraordinary Machine, focused on its recording and release — how the original Jon Brion productions were scrapped in favor of new versions helmed by Mike Elizondo, all fueling fan panic and an Internet protest pleading for a free Fiona — that ultimately all the clamor obscured Apple herself, both her songs and performances. She runs no such risk on The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do, her fourth album, arriving some seven years after Extraordinary Machine. Alone with her voice, piano, and percussionist Charley Drayton, Apple has nowhere to hide, nor does she give any indication she'd prefer to run. These spare but not skeletal arrangements — each cut is subtly colored with harmonies, slight effects, overlapping rhythms, and additional keyboards — never shift focus away from Fiona's magnetic vocals, the human element pulling us into these songs. Some hooks are stronger than others — "Periphery" cuts to the quick, whereas "Every Single Night" surges — but what was rumored about Extraordinary Machine is actually true about The Idler Wheel: there are no singles here, nothing concise and concentrated to facilitate an easy sell. But that's not to say that The Idler Wheel is alienating. As elliptical as the melodies and words can be, the music is immediate and the songs unfold quickly, certain turns of phrase or thrilling runs swiftly seeping into the subconscious. Lacking either ornate production or a pop single, The Idler Wheel plays like Fiona Apple at her purest and that's plenty complicated: she takes no shortcuts or easy turns, her intent somewhat shrouded but never absent. Much of the charm of Apple's music isn't decoding what it all means but learning its internal clockwork, letting the songs take root, so the love songs ("Jonathan") seem sweeter, the braggadocio ("Hot Knife") funnier, the pathos ("Valentine," "Regret") and paranoia ("Werewolf") feeling fathomless. Once the startling Spartan surfaces of The Idler Wheel become familiar, similarities to her three previous albums are apparent — she takes certain jazzy strides that hark back to Tidal, there's a rigorous dexterity reminiscent of When the Pawn — but what's new is an unwavering determination and cohesion. Nothing is wasted, either in the composition or arrangement, and this lean confidence binds The Idler Wheel. Stripped of all her carnivalesque accouterments, Fiona Apple remains as rich and compelling as she ever was, perhaps even more so.

Customer Reviews

What an album!

This album is simply sublime. Everything from the performances to the lyrics to the dark undertones are excecuted perfectly. The first revewer on this album got it all wrong, and this album is actually the highest rated album of the year so far on metecritic, which proves this fact. This album may be dark an disturbing, but it is well worth listening to! Give it a try!

It's another great record from Fiona, but listen to it with an open mind.

I think the best way to approach this album is to not compare this to her previous albums. My reason for this is because they are all different to each other and all very special, with verying levels of production and style. They each however share sadness and anger and this current album is no exception, with some grainy vocals and powerful lines that she strains to get out, which makes this album feel very real (and very Fiona). I have always enjoyed her music and still do with her latest album; it isn't my favourite, but I still love it. I think it needs a couple of listens to find your favourites, but songs such as Every Single Night and Periphery are immediately catchy on the first play.

Her vocals are not perfect, but they're unique and emotional, and this album feels a lot less produced than the last (Extroadinary Machine), so if you like a bit more of an organic sound, then give it a go.

Uncomfortable listening.

There is no denying the musical talent of Fiona Apple. This album does not showcase that talent as best it could. Over the last 16 years I have bought some great music from Fiona Apple but this album is the exception. The brilliance of 'Tidal', 'When The Pawn...' & 'Extraordinary Machine' leave it lying cold in their tracks. If you're new to F.A. I would suggest any of her preceding albums as a starting point, before listening to this one. I felt nothing more than anxious after listening to it & wanted to scratch myself like a mad person. No matter how hard I try, I can't find any love for it.


Born: 13 September 1977 in New York, NY

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Fiona Apple defied categorization or any easy career path, almost running the pattern in reverse, opening her career as a highly touted and popular alternative singer/songwriter, then transitioning into a cult artist. Apple certainly benefited from the open-door policy of modern rock in the mid-’90s, following the path of crossover alt-rock piano-based songwriters like Tori Amos, but Apple was hardly an Amos copycat: she had a strong jazz undertow in her vocal phrasing and melodies, she had richer...
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