If you read the music press, you’ll know Fiona Apple has just released a 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. The album is drawing rave reviews, and I felt inclined to buy it after today’s publication of yet another positive review, by Jill Mapes at Billboard. I got more than halfway through the album on the way home and thought I’d respond with one minute reviews of my own, track-by-track. This review is worth what you paid for it.
1. Every Single Night. (Not really a) Single cut from her last album, Extraordinary Machine. Best line: “That’s where the pain comes in / Like a second skeleton, trying to fit beneath the skin.”
2. Daredevil. Metal shaking, hand smacking percussion and Fiona harmonizing with herself. One terribly angry moment.
3. Valentine. “I root for you, I love you./ You, you, you.” And you also know what it feels like to orbit around someone. While walking the “you, you, you” felt like the most searing indictment, but it felt softer on second listen.
4. Jonathan. “About” her famous ex-boyfriend, which interests me not at all. The lyrics are tediously repetitive, the music is disarmingly and arrestingly odd. The story that interests me here is entirely instrumental. I’m struck by something’s resemblance to Philip Glass, although I know its something more than “movie soundtrack sounding, piano-based music.” If she’s in command of this musical complexity to the same degree that she commands an understanding of the emotional complexity of relationships, we need to get her a show on OWN (that’s that Oprah thing).
5. Left Alone. ZOWIE. Drum solo followed by a piano solo that lie in perfect symmetry. It sounds like you can hear her fingers strike the piano keys, except her fingers would have to be made out of porcelain and you’d have to do some physics jujitsu to make those two sounds arrive at the microphone at the same time (the piano and the nails). She’s got a kind of half-rocking beat on the piano and scat drumming–it reminds me of how those early Sun records sound like they’re almost rock, but don’t rock yet. The whole thing puts me in a specific mood, like Texas rockabilly…Jerry Lee Lewis plus Cowboy Country (an impression due, in no small measure, to the huge vocal lift). By far my favorite thing here. BY FAR. “How can I ask anyone to love me/When all I ask is to be left alone?”
6. Werewolf. She plays this one straight, even down to the lyrics: “Nothing wrong when/A song ends/In a minor key.” It avoids cloying sweet pop-y-ness, but barely.
7. Periphery. Is this snare bleed? Maybe it’s my speakers. No, that’s real. Well, what an annoying percussion sound. And them I’m surprised by the swelling multi-voice chorus. Someday, I’d like someone to strip out everything here except for the vocal because I can’t even hear what’s happening after noticing and now being preoccupied by that snare. There’s even a really nice bit at the end when she does a full throat sing which seems lovely, but I can’t pay it any mind. Finally, at the end of the song, everything’s stripped out but the burning, grating sound that ruined the whole experience. Is it sandpaper used to sound like a foot fall? FAIL.
8. Regret. The percussion here is some combination of hitting Jenga blocks and a letter press machine plus that same damn metal percussion instrument from “Daredevil.” I guess this is what happens when the drummer has a heavy hand in the production. Hard to imagine her performing this live (or very often) because parts of this involve HUGE vocal strain/scream. And the blogo world wants you know one of the lyrics is: “white dove feathers to soak up the hot piss that comes from your mouth every time you address me.” But I don’t even know what that means, except whomever “you” is should probably shut up.
9. Anything We Want. I was starting to think the percussion choices might put me off the album entirely, but here I love this playful combination of drum and spoons. Lots of major chords here, and that nice snare sound that resembles crashing waves. “Almost anthemic” seems right, Jill. Will make you look over at your copy of Graceland, and your stolen copy of Vampire Weekend’s first album, with something like desire.
10. Hot Knife. Oh, vocal gymnastics! The drums low and thrummy. Then a multi-part female chorus (guessing that’s 5 Fionas). This reminds me of circle songs we learned in elementary school, with a really nice sexy Jill Scott vibe. Oh, and then don’t you hear Jack White in this part? This is surely a Fiona version of “My Milkshake Brings All the Boys to the Yard” in the Jim Crow south. Probably now my favorite song.
[11. Largo. Bonus song. I am anti-bonus songs.]