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 Album Review
Fiona Apple's first album in 7 years is a bare-boned howl of a record; the sound of an artist working and experimenting completely on her own terms and the result is a record that oozes with exhilarating honesty.
Opting to change producer from longtime artistic partner Jon Brion, whose work with Apple impressed another defiantly singular artist, one Kanye West, so much that he worked with Brion on 'Late Registration', Apple produced the album with tour drummer Charley Drayton. As a result, the album's sonic landscape is a cacophony of clattering drums, dark-jazz pianos over which Apple's voice soars, howls and whispers, often all in the same song.
One feels like this working relationship with Drayton gives Apple a freedom to fully express herself, and the percussive musical landscape is a perfect fit with her lyrical honesty that deals with love, pain and themes of mental unrest.
The album opens with first single, Every Single Night, the beginning of which is somewhat deceptive; xylophones chime as Fiona sings of 'little wings of white-flamed butterflies in my brain', painting a pleasingly whimsical picture just before things turn sour as these feelings start to 'trickle down my spine to where the pain comes in'. Before we know it she is howling the song's chorus 'Every single night's a fight in my brain', turning that last word into its own melodic line, bellowing the line as a defiant f***-you to those nights.
The dynamics on this track is symptomatic of the whole album, which uses the old loud/quiet/loud to great effect, yet the album is never easy to read and, just as you feel you've got a song pegged, it'll head off in a completely direction. Every Single Night ends with the eccentrically delivered line; 'I just want to feel everything', and in some ways within this lies the key to the album - the diversity and visceral nature of the emotions contained here shows us that she has felt it all, and this is her translation of it, and it's our turn to 'feel everything'.
Her lyrical style lends itself to this idea of 'feeling' emotion, opting for imagery over straightforwardly confessional lyrics - lines such as 'I looked like a neon zebra, shaking rain off my stripes' on highlight 'Anything We Want' mean to create an image rather than have specific meaning. She excels at these types of evocative images, the best perhaps being the bile-fuelled line 'I ran out of white dove feathers to soak up the hot piss that comes through your mouth, every time you address me', which really doesn't need any kind of explanation in order to understand it.
Many of the songs, such as Jonathan or the superb Valentine, sound as if Apple has taken a straightforwardly melodic track, decided the current form is too MOR, so gone into the studio to deconstruct and bastardise it, adding discord and tension to the track. This is not to say that the record is willfully difficult to listen to - rather that Apple has cloaked the catchy and very melodic nature of the songs, meaning that the album only truly reveals itself after it's been lived with for a while.
It isn't often these days that one feels challenged by a singer-songwriter album, but Fiona Apple has made a record that is both challenging as well as easy to love, all because of its musical and emotional honesty - one feels this is exactly the record she intended to make, and it stands as one of the year's best.
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