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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

Who cares if the title is too long?

It's such a nice album, so stripped down and raw with great vocals and piano. And to say the title won't work? Won't work at what? I don't think she's aiming for 'the charts', unlike some artists (ie Marling) who name all their albums in a mindless six-syllable chart-ready format. The fact that she remains alternative and goes a little out on a limb makes me like here music even more. Check this album out, you won't regret it.

Raw, yet beautiful

For me, Fiona Apple doesn't automatically go into my "Love it" area of my music selection. Although "When the Pawn" is one of my top 5 albums I have owned, I only loved a few songs of "Tidal" and "Extraordinary Machine", where the rest I felt were a little meandering and self aware.

Fiona Apples' 4th album The idler wheel however, is stripped down to the bloody bare bones and leaves behind the nerves and heart of 10 of Fionas best. It took a few listens to appreciate for me, especially as I mentioned "When the pawn" with its loud brash carnival sounds is one of my faves, in comparison this album is almost a whisper.

Opening song Every single night is a taut, and unhinging song which serves a sa good opener to the album and the music Video is astounding! Daredevil follows with the constant pattering of drums and fantastic middle 8 section.

For me Valentine is the one song im not getting yet, but its not to say I wont. I just find the section in the middle stops the flow for too long. Jonathan is another good song with some brilliant chord progressions and playful melodies.

Left along is remeniscent of the jazz era via Fionas imagination and it is fun, fast and powerful. Werefolf follows and is one of the more simple songs, yet it is a standout for me,

Periphery took a while for me, but yeah its cool with a nice swing-esque beat and call and responce ending, nice riff of the piano too. Regret has eaten into my soul and I love it! Its a foul spitting contempt of a song and the lyrics in the chorus are brilliant!!! :D

Anything we want follows and its fiona showing her sweet side with contasts nicely from the previous song. Hot knife ends the standard album with a very non fiona song, but its inspired. Think charlston and multi layered loops. Largo I know least well, but sounds like a more traditioner Fiona Apple closer, which is no bad thing.

This album has gotten good critic reviews in the press and it really isnt hard to see why. If this what comes out of 7 years away from the limelight, the best things really do come to those who wait!!

Great fourth album!

Great to have Fiona back! I love her songs and this new album is really strong! :)


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