Fiona Apple just released the video for “Hot Knife,” for which she reunited with her ex-boyfriend director Paul Thomas Anderson. The song was featured on last year’s excellent The Idler Wheel… album.
Fiona Apple’s first album in seven years, The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do, weaves the fierce emotion, poetic lyrics and masterfully constructed compositions of her previous releases with a much more rugged recording style and strong splashes of jazz. The collection is somewhat unexpected and strange, but it’s also exquisitely beautiful and brilliant.
Fiona’s music has always hinted at the rawness of an exposed nerve, but The Idler Wheel… lays it all bare with little evidence of studio production. While there are plenty of stunners, the roughness and eccentricities of the overall recording were a bit jarring the first time around. It’s the first Fiona album that wasn’t obsessive love at first listen. Yet even that initial doubt was mingled with admiration for Fiona’s unusual song structures. The album is unquestionably heavy with artistic brilliance, it merely lacks the immediate listenability of her previous releases.
However, the album turned out to be quite the grower and familiarity has bred great affection. After a few weeks of getting to know and falling in love with these new songs, I wonder why I didn’t connect with it the first time. I say all this only to encourage any old Fiona fans to listen to the album without expectations or preconceptions of what a Fiona Apple album should sound like. There are hints of When the Pawn… and the leaked, Free Fiona-era, Jon Brion demos of Extraordinary Machine, but The Idler Wheel… is truly a unique and incomparable experience.
Fiona’s dark, punchy delivery in the opening verses of “Every Single Night” is about as close to her classic sound as we get here. The howling explosions of “a fight with my brain” make it clear this listening experience will be something else entirely.
“Daredevil” is by far my favorite track. Self-aware lyrics such as “Don’t let me ruin me, I may need a chaperone” reveal a messed up mind and heart hoping for a savior yet proudly insisting on being accepted as is. Every time the song plays, I’m astounded when Fiona hoarsely cries “Seek me out! Look at, Look at, Look at me!” then swiftly slips into a slinky jazz phrasing of “I’m all the fishes in the sea” before unleashing another wail of “Wake me up!“
With quietly heartfelt lyrics like “I’m amorous but out of reach, a still-life drawing of a peach” and subtle splashes of strings, the verses of “Valentine” captivate me. Sadly, though, I still find the repetitive “I root for you, I love you, You, You, You” chorus a bit irksome. And, try as I might, I still don’t like “Jonathan” – inspired by Fiona’s ex, author Jonathan Ames.
Fiona plays a jazzy Garbo in the piano-driven “Left Alone,” which is another favorite of mine.
“Werewolf” begins as a simple post-breakup piano ballad akin to Extraordinary Machine‘s “Parting Gift.” But the chorus heralds change as Fiona’s voice takes on a more passionate tone and is eventually backed by the screams of a concert crowd.
“Periphery” at first seems to be a low-fi but lyrical denunciation of celebrity sycophants before Fiona sets her disdainful sights on a lover’s wandering eye.
“Regret” is another initially understated look at the end of a relationship soon rattled with a full-throated, howling chorus.
The clang and clamor of “Anything We Want” and Fiona’s deadpan vocals are conceptually an odd fit for the song’s seductive lyrics, but the actuality is absolutely superb. A true artist doesn’t give the audience what they want, they give the audience what they didn’t know they want.
Several tracks find Fiona fully embracing the jazz phrasing and instrumentation she only played with in the past. None more so than the surprisingly simple but very effective finale, which features harmonies by Fiona’s jazz singer sister, Maude Maggart. Aside from Fiona eliciting from her piano a sound so akin to the beat, beat, beat of a tom-tom it would do Ella Fitzgerald proud, “Hot Knife” is a sultry, semi-acapella love song.
I think The Idler Wheel… may be Fiona’s Lorca – Tim Buckley’s fan-alienating, experimental masterpiece. The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do may never be my favorite or most played Fiona Apple album, but it’s most certainly her most complex and daring recording. And like the most delicious of acquired tastes, it gets better with every bite.
Epic Records is giving us a taste of Fiona Apple‘s upcoming album, The Idler Wheel… (to be released June 19th). You can stream the first single, “Every Single Night,” via the official SoundCloud widget below. If this song is any indication, the new album will be just as charming and fierce as Fiona’s previous releases.
As we eagerly anticipate the June 19th release of Fiona Apple’s 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, I’m happy to announce Fiona will be gracing the nation with a rare summer tour. Dates below. If you missed it the first time ’round, also check out our review of Fiona’s recent Chicago concert.
Fiona Apple 2012 Summer Tour Dates
6/19 Ithaca, NY: State Theatre
6/20 Baltimore, MD: Lyric Opera House
6/22 Mashantucket, CT: MGM Grand Theater at Foxwoods
6/23 Holyoke, MA: Mountain Park
6/24 New York, NY: The Governors Ball – Randall’s Island
6/26 Washington, DC: Warner Theatre
6/27 Upper Darby, PA: Tower Theatre
6/29 Danbury, CT: Ives Concert Park
6/30 Boston, MA: Citi Performing Arts Center
7/1 Portland, ME: State Theatre
7/3 Montreal, QC: Olympia Theatre
7/4 Toronto, ON: The Sound Academy
7/6 Cleveland Heights, OH: Cain Park
7/7 Detroit, MI: The Fillmore Detroit
7/9 Grand Rapids, MI: Meijer Gardens
7/10 Chicago, IL: Chicago Theatre
7/11 Indianapolis, IN: Murat Theatre
7/13 Nashville, TN: Ryman Auditorium
7/14 St. Louis, MO: Peabody Opera House
7/16 Minneapolis, MN: Orpheum Theatre
7/17 Kansas City, MO: The Midland by AMC
7/20 Denver, CO: Paramount Theatre
7/21 Salt Lake City, UT: Kingsbury Hall – University of Utah
7/24 Vancouver, BC: Orpheum
7/25 Seattle, WA: Paramount Theatre
7/26 Portland, OR: Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall
7/28 Oakland, CA: Fox Theater
7/29 Hollywood, CA: Hollywood Palladium
I think it safe to say that the extraordinary Fiona Apple is one of the all-time favorite artists of every single writer on the Muruch staff. This is particularly true of our Mid-West reviewer/photographer Jen “Coble” Hopper, who was fortunate enough to attend Fiona Apple’s live performance on March 19th at Chicago’s Lincoln Hall. You can read Coble’s review and view her photographs from the concert below…
The stage at Lincoln Hall was tiny and intimate, crowded with a baby grand piano, a drum kit and a full accompanying band. The piano was lovingly draped with gorgeous, fringed fabric and several candles. To the right, Fiona greeted the crowd with only a warm smile before beginning her performance. There was just enough floor space to allow her signature expressive physical performance, her body rolling and convulsing through “Fast As You Can.”
The 21+ crowd was elated, cheering Fiona loudly between the first few songs with occasional shouts of “Welcome back!” and “We missed you!” All the while, they collectively sang along with well-loved songs from her first three albums. She spent time at the piano as well as standing at the mic, her eyes closed as she passionately belted out every word. She only opening them when the lights were dim, her shyness still evident. Any stage banter was unnecessary.
The crowd settled after the first few songs of the set, the packed room going completely silent to allow each of the lyrics to be heard. To accompany the new tune, “Anything We Want,” Fiona played a piece of old rebar or scrap metal with what appeared to be a long nail to create a sound like a kitchen sink. A few of the more charming lyrics from the song include this verse:
These written lyrics really do not do justice to the whimsy of the upbeat tune or the joy she obviously felt performing it.
Another new song, “Valentine,” started with minimal instrumentals, letting her voice and the lyrics stand alone until after the second verse:
The resonating chorus, “I root for you, I love you, you you you” is followed with the familiar, haunting chord progressions that have grown to be characteristic of her work.
The other new song, “Every Single Night,” is another lighter melody paired with relatable, anxious thoughts:
The now peaceful audience marveled between songs, and evoked a flattered smile from Fiona with singular calls of “I love you!” and “How are you real?”
Fiona still wears each song like a second skin, letting her emotions be completely exposed; slipping easily between the youthful angst and anger of betrayal to lighter or more mature selections. She growled and gritted out “Sleep to Dream” in one of her most impassioned performances, reliving the anger and the frustration with every inch of her petite form. Later in the song, she disappeared behind the piano, bent over at the middle, seemingly hiding through the instrumental portion. On the contrary, “Extraordinary Machine” elicited a practically bubbly performance with playful twists of waist and shoulders and a swinging foot. She bleated and howled older songs like “Carrion” with such volume and raw emotion, they became fresh and new.
She struggled just slightly in her higher range, and her voice was more rough in parts as she finished with “Criminal.” She slowly, gently removed her monitor and sat it on the piano. It’s possible that the only words spoken to the crowd were those to genuinely thank them for a wonderful evening before she walked off stage, not to return. The common wish among the crowd was for a longer set, but it’s evident that Fiona’s performances are on her terms. She spoke only when necessary, and, once she felt her voice start to strain, ended the set without the exercise of an encore.
Her return to the stage was anything but disappointing. Fiona Apple delivered a recharged, inspiring and musically enticing performance. Her next characteristically long-titled release cannot come soon enough, but The Idler Wheel is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw, and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do is tentatively scheduled to hit stores sometime in June.