Review: Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do
Published on July 17th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
Manhattan singer-songwriter Fiona Apple returns with only her fourth studio album since 1996 debut Tidal – and first since 2005’s Extraordinary Machine – and to say it’s worth the wait is rather akin to saying (insert preposterous understatement here).
Opener “Every Single Night” makes itself known with music box ambience and magically atonal chord progressions before exploding majestically with a forcefully primal delivery of the refrain “baaaaaby” the likes of which could have come straight off Tu Fawning’s new album. Immediately it’s clear that Apple has lost none of her knack for captivating through lyrical and theatrical expression, almost admitting as much herself with the line “I just wanna feel everything”.
This expressed desire for omnisentience (screw you wiggly red line, it’s a word now) is perhaps explained on the ensuing “Daredevil” with “I guess I just must be a daredevil / I don’t feel anything until I smash it up”, her misplaced lust for destruction resulting in oddly punctuated ‘bad guy’ piano popping up Whac-A-Mole-style through a clappy, shuffly marching beat; as across the whole album her use of dynamics is superb, the tension and release so varying in these otherwise pared-down, jazzy piano numbers.
“I stand no chance of growing up / I’ve made my peace, I’m dead, I’m done / I’ll watch you live to have my fun” flies in the face of the evidence provided by The Idler Wheel…‘s glorious showcasing of her fully realised talents, while “Daredevil” also plays host to quite possibly the weirdest key change ever to follow the words “I love you” in popular song.
The fantastic “Jonathan” reminds of Ben Folds Five classic “Battle of Who Could Care Less”, Apple stating “I don’t wanna talk about anything” despite already having admitted that she’d like to feel it (everything, that is) and the whole thing disappearing into ambient wilderness at the end. “Left Alone” feels particularly confessional with lines like “I don’t cry when I’m sad anymore”, “How can I ask anyone to love me / When all I do is beg to be left alone?” and “I tried love / And I can love the same man in the same bed in the same city but not in the same room / It’s a pity but oh it never bothered me before / Not this guy, what a guy, oh god what a good guy / And I can’t even enjoy what’s on my heart”, the latter of which may read more like a passage from a book than lyrics to a song but you’ve just got to hear the way she deals with it melodically: it’s quite astonishing.
“I could liken you to a werewolf / The way you left me for dead / But I admit that I provided a full moon” proffers “Werewolf” before surrounding itself with crowd ambience that may or may not have you pausing the track to check if it’s real, and then we have the musically superb “Periphery”, with its sudden lapses into that sinister ‘bad guy piano’ marching like pink elephants into first jazzier and then more bitter-sweet terrain, winding up with what Rocksucker feels moved to describe as ‘velcro-y’ percussion.
Apple borderline growls some of her lines on “Regret”, suddenly shedding this cracked wail to revert to her sweetly soulful angel-on-her-shoulder voice over a sparse, tribal kind of rhythm section; subsequently we are treated to the LP’s most upbeat track, the clunky, clinky, ‘jewel-encrusted square wheel’ groove of “Anything We Want”, the utterly masterful “Hot Knife”, which sounds like a brilliantly skewed cover of an old blues standard and raises the distasteful suspicion that a blanded-out remix of it could yield a big hit, before “Largo”, ironically the shortest song on the album at under three minutes, makes for a concise and stripped-back yet still-stirring closer.
Don’t mistake Fiona Apple for Norah Jones-type coffee stable schmooze: The Idler Wheel… is astonishingly inventive and multi-faceted within its own generic framework, and one of the albums of 2012 so far in Rocksucker’s book.
Rocksucker says: Four and a Half Quails out of Five!
The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do is out now on Clean Slate/Epic. For more information, please visit www.fiona-apple.com