Music Reviews
9:53 am
Tue June 26, 2012

Fiona Apple's 'Wheel' Of Extravagant Emotions

Originally published on Wed June 27, 2012 7:49 am

"These ideas of mine / percolate the mind," Fiona Apple sings in "Every Single Night," the song that opens her new album, The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do. Some people are going to listen to the entire record and come away with the feeling that the percolation in Apple's mind has bubbled over like a coffee pot left on a stove too long. But for me and perhaps for you, Apple's bubbling thoughts, words and music are thrilling — eager and direct, heedless about being judged or misunderstood.

The Idler Wheel is primarily a collaboration between Apple and percussionist/co-producer Charley Drayton. The clattering sounds that form the spine of many melodies here are made by everything from drums to pebbles tossed down a garbage chute. The contrast between Apple's moist, enveloping confessional lyrics and the dry, sometimes harsh music is often wonderfully stark and dramatic.

It's easy to get the idea that socializing with Fiona Apple is no small commitment. As the vehement piano playing and vocal in "Valentine" suggest, when she's on your side, she can be a tad obsessive — that's part of what I take away from a chorus that goes, "I root for you, I love you, you you you you." And sharing a meal might become an endurance test when she reveals, "I made it to a dinner date / My teardrops seasoned every plate." I mean it as a compliment to say that Apple is working in the literary tradition of "the difficult woman," closing in on Virginia Woolf and already superior to Sylvia Plath. Apple's achievement is to both indulge in melodrama and to isolate the hard truths behind her extravagant emotions. I was never, not for a moment, put off by Apple's constant fingering of her feelings, because she describes them with such vigorous music and in such rigorous rhyme.

The vocals on The Idler's Wheel demonstrate a striking range, from jazzy croon to blues howl to pop conversational. It's a measure of Apple's artistry that she's labored so intensively to give the sustained impression that she's alone in a room. She's listening to the sounds in her head, describing them and the images and emotions they inspire. As intense as she is, she's awfully good company.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review of Fiona Apple's new album, called "The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do." Yes, that's the title. It's her first album in five years and Ken says the frequently stripped down sound is a backdrop for her thoughts about the complications of love.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EVERY SINGLE NIGHT")

FIONA APPLE: (Singing) Every single night I endure the flight of little wings of white flame butterflies in my brain. These ideas of mine percolate the mind, trickle down my spine, swarm the belly, swelling to a blaze. That's where the pain comes in like a second skeleton trying to fit beneath the skin. I can't fit the feelings in. No, every single night...

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: These ideas of mine percolate the mind, Fiona Apple sings on "Every Single Night," the song that opens her album, "The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do." Some people are going to listen to the entire album and come away with the feeling that the percolation in Apple's mind has bubbled over like a coffee pot left too long on a stove.

But for me and perhaps for you, Apple's bubbling thoughts, words and music are thrilling - eager and direct, heedless about being judged or misunderstood.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ANYTHING WE WANT")

APPLE: (Signing) My cheeks were reflecting the longest wavelength. My fan was folded up and grazing my forehead. And I kept touching my neck to guide your eye to where I wanted you to kiss me when we find some time alone. My scars were...

TUCKER: "The Idler Wheeler" is primarily a collaboration between Apple and percussionist/co-producer Charley Drayton. The clattering sounds that form the spine of many melodies here are made by everything from drums to pebbles tossed down a garbage chute. The contrast between Apple's moist, enveloping confessional lyrics and the dry, sometimes harsh music is often a wonderfully stark, dramatic one.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "VALENTINE")

APPLE: (Signing) You didn't see my Valentine. I sent it via pantomime. While you were watching someone else, I stared at you and cut myself. It's all I'll do 'cause I'm not free, a fugitive too dull to flee. I'm amorous but out of reach. A still life drawing of a peach. I'm a tulip in a cup...

TUCKER: One gets the idea that socializing with Miss Apple is no small commitment. As the vehement piano playing and vocal on that song "Valentine" suggests, when she's on your side, she can be a tad obsessive. That's part of what I take away from a chorus that goes: I root for you, I love you, you, you, you, you.

And sharing a meal might become an endurance test when she reveals, quote, "I made it to a dinner date, my teardrops seasoned every plate." I mean it as a compliment to say that Apple is working in the literary tradition of the difficult woman, closing in on Virginia Woolf and already superior to Sylvia Plath.

Apple's achievement is to both indulge in melodrama and to isolate the hard truths behind her extravagant emotions. I was never, not for a moment, put off by Apple's constant fingering of her feelings, because she describes them with such vigorous music and in such rigorous rhyme.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PERIPHERY")

APPLE: (Singing) Oh, the periphery. They throw good parties there. Those peripheral idiots always have a bite to bare. Bare it if you can, if you really want to. Go to the periphery.

TUCKER: The vocals on "The Idler's Wheel" demonstrate a striking range, from jazzy croon to blues howl to pop conversational. It's a measure of Apple's artistry that she has labored so intensively to give the sustained impression that she's alone in a room. She's listening to the sounds in her head, describing them and the images and emotions they inspire as she listens along with us. As intense as she is, she's awfully good company.

DAVIES: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed Fiona Apple's new album.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

APPLE: (Singing) If I'm butter, if I'm butter, if I'm butter then he's a hot knife. He makes my heart a cinemascope. He's showing the dancing bird of paradise. If I'm butter, if I'm butter, if I'm butter then he's a hot knife. He makes my heart a cinemascope. He's showing a dancing bird of paradise. He excites me. Must be like a genesis of rhythm. I get feisty whenever I'm with him. If I'm butter, if I'm butter, if I'm butter then he's a hot knife. He makes my heart a cinemascope. He's showing the dancing bird of paradise... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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