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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


Fiona apple is such a talented singer and deserves a grammy

The soul is revealed through art.

Of corse this is not "Tidal". Nor should you want it to be. This is an album that you must experience from start to finish in order to understand. You must also open your heart to the plight Fiona apple is wrestling with. It is raw and stripped down to its essence because only then will be able to delve into her world. It is an invitation to her soul. And only through art can we really see a person's soul. This is art, and this is her soul- Like it or not. Her voice is spectacular as always.

A long time coming

I have been a huge Fiona fan since Tidal - anticipating this release for some time now. The lyrics are as to be expected: brilliant. The piece as a whole is art in it's purest form - experimental, creative, conceptual with a solid foundation of skill and talent. I will always have a soft spot in my heart for "When the Pawn...", I don't think any Fiona album could top that for me - but "The Idler Wheel..." is in a completely different realm. Each CD captures a different chapter in my life - stages of growing up. I am anxious to look back a few years from now and see what this new album will represent. Thanks Fiona!


Born: September 13, 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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