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Fiona Apple's New Music: 'The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do'

June 21, 2012

Timothy Finn

Fiona Apple

After a seven-year absence from the music world and public life in general, Fiona Apple has returned with another album with a corpulent title: "The Idler Wheel is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do."

As long at that is, it's name is significantly shorter than that of one of its predecessors, which was a 90-word poem: "When the Pawn Hits the Conflicts He Thinks Like a King What He Knows Throws the Blows When He Goes to the Fight and He'll Win the Whole Thing 'Fore He Enters the Ring ..." And so on.

Despite the length of its title, "Idler Wheel" is arranged austerely and with eccentricity and guile. It's mostly Apple on piano and her co-producer, Charley Drayton, applying various odd-duck means of percussion, some of them found sounds and recordings. It also includes her emotive and abstract ways of expressing what lies and lurks within her psyche's shadows and darkness. The prevailing critical verdict: It's a rough but rewarding ride.

From the Washington Post: "Apart from intuitive use of non-instrumental sounds such as a typewriter ('Regret'), children's voices on a playground ('Werewolf") and birds flapping their wings ('Daredevil'), Apple brings to the table her impeccable lyric-writing skills and instinct for the most wonderful turn of phrase."

Chicago Tribune: "These songs brim with musical personality, even if the subject matter is often pretty dire. It makes for a raw, unsettling listen, tempered by shots of dark humor."

Entertainment Weekly wrote, "Delving into classical music, jazz, art-rock, and show tunes, this is an album that will make you stay up late, playing each song over and over, trying to answer the questions it stirs up. Like, what does Apple mean when she sings that she's 'a neon zebra, shaking rain off her stripes'? It isn't easy listening. But it's worth it."

Justin Bieber -- 'Believe'

He's old enough to vote and smart enough to know he can't be a teen idol all is life. So the Bieb is moving forward, carefully. Entertainment Weekly: "Bieber has had to go through cultural puberty and actual puberty. Luckily, his instincts are strong, and 'Believe' works surprisingly well as a reinvention and a reintroduction. It's the rare album that tries to be everything to everyone and largely succeeds."

Glen Hansard -- 'Rhythm and Repose'

"Repose" is the first solo album from Hansard, better-known as half of the Grammy-winning Swell Season, with Marketa Irglova. On "Repose," he writes about matters of the heart calls it a "collection of slow-burning, gently brush-stroked chamber folk tunes ... yet in between the notes and lines, you can hear the coarse, raw sound of Glen's heart filling and breaking."

Kenny Chesney -- 'Welcome to the Fishbowl'

Chesney downshifts on his 14th studio album. The first single -- "Rockstar," the high-octane Southern-rock duet with Tim McGraw -- was a bit misleading. The rest of "Fishbowl" is more contemplative, as indicated by the second single, "Come Over." There's a beach song, a small-town song and a song about the reckoning between a boy and his ailing dad. The rest get into more personal matters, with mixed results.

Can -- 'Lost Tapes'

This box set comprises 30 tracks on three CDs, all extracted from 30 hours of master tapes circa 1968 to 1977, which were found in the archives when Spoon Studios was dismantled. Each track is a previously unreleased piece of finished music. Pitchfork quibbles with the claim that no outtakes are included, but ultimately decrees: "It could easily be condensed to a single, first-rate album of genuinely new-to-record material."

Also due this week

Jimmy Buffett, "Welcome to Fin City" (CD/DVD)

Neneh Cherry and the Thing, "Cherry Thing"

Ravi Coltrane, "Spirit Fiction"

The Ghost Inside, "Get What You Give"

Groove Armada, "Music for Pleasure"

Sophie B. Hawkins, "The Crossing"

Dirty Heads, "Cabin by the Sea"

Lit, "View From the Bottom"

Lita Ford, "Living Like a Runaway"

Kylie Minogue, "The Best of Kylie Minogue"

Return to Forever, "The Mothership Returns"

Chris Smither, "Hundred Dollar Valentine"

Walk the Moon, "Walk the Moon"

Don Williams, "And so it Goes"

Coming next week

Blues Traveler, "Suzie Cracks the Whip"

Chris Cagle, "Back in the Saddle"

Elizabeth Cook, "Gospel Plow"

Jerry Douglas, "Traveler"

Everclear, "Invisible Stars"

The Flaming Lips, "The Flaming Lips & Heady Fwends"

Kenny G and Rahul Sharma, "Namaste"

Joe Jackson, "The Duke"

R. Kelly, "Write Me Back"

Linkin Park, "Living Things"

Maroon 5, "Overexposed"

Jill Scott, "Crates: Remix Fundamentals, Vol. 1"

Cassandra Wilson, "Another Country"

Source: (c)2012 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)

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