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

Epic (2012)
By ZETH LUNDY  |  June 19, 2012
3.5 3.5 Stars


Long delays between albums, equally long album titles, uncompromising artistic vision, the is-Joni-Mitchell-is-not-Joni-Mitchell question, and that "Criminal" video. Yeah, we get it — these are the things we talk about when we talk about Fiona Apple. Honestly, though, Apple could be another piano-wielding post-Lennon ego-on-the-sleeve if not for her dark, incessant sense of humor sabotaging expectations. "Moody" doesn't have to mean moody, you know — just ask Mark Eitzel or Morrissey. Her fourth album is arguably her funniest — for real: "I ran out of white dove feathers/To soak up the hot piss that comes from your mouth every time you address me" — but also her leanest and most melodically daring. Recording primarily with drummer/producer Charley Drayton, Apple is pursuing a raw, deceptively artless sound. Bypassing standard band arrangements, Apple and Drayton use found sounds on "Periphery" and kitchen percussion on "Anything We Want"; when they do play as a "band," she's bounding on the keyboard and he's skittering on the snare. It was easy to miss the Beatles-esque nature of When the Pawn . . . or the widescreen elements of Extraordinary Machine, but The Idler Wheel has its own skinny, searching grace. As usual, the songs are rich with metaphor: she's a daredevil, he's a werewolf and/or a hot knife cutting through her, ahem, butter. That latter track, "Hot Knife," set against war-dance drum rolls, is loaded with complex vocal rounds and not-so-complex sexual tension. Winking, self-deprecating, and a little complicit, it's the most direct song on a record that works hard to sound so simple.

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