Fiona Apple's "The Idler Wheel...": Track-by-Track Review

92 Billboard Rating

Fiona Apple is completely okay with declaring "it's not you, it's me." As much as she takes the brunt of her own lyrical lashings on fourth album "The Idler Wheel…," she saves just enough guilt to share amongst former lovers.

Most adult relationships require a bit of dysfunction from both parties involved to really crash and burn, something that Apple has realized. On her fourth album and first full-length in seven years, she presents a stunning portrait of her interpersonal relationships that's more even-keeled than any of her past works.

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The sensibility that remains intact - and the reason the cult of Fiona remains so fervent, despite her inability to release more than two records each decade - is her unflinching honesty. "The Idler Wheel…" is devoid of much musical flourishing besides Apple's voice and piano, and the experimental, jazz-tinged percussion of drummer/co-producer Charley Drayton. The result is an album that was absolutely worth the seven-year wait, not to mention the mountain of hype atop which Apple has sat since her big comeback at SXSW in March. Is it catchy? Not exactly, but it will stick with listeners - and might even haunt a few.

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Which new Fiona Apple songs live up to her past work? Delve into "The Idler Wheel…," out today (June 19) on Epic, with a track-by-track examination of the album.

1. "Every Single Night" - On the album's lead single, Apple hits listeners over the heads with the thesis statement of "The Idler Wheel…" (and every one of her records, really): "I just want to feel everything." Musically, the song straddles the line between childlike and eerie, led by a music box toy piano and Apple's own tribal yodeling.

2. "Daredevil" - "Daredevil" makes a fitting title for a song with such a strong sense of marching into battle, with Apple's start-stop piano and erratic percussion leading the charge. But that's the brilliant irony of the song: It's actually Apple's plea for protection against herself.

3. "Valentine" - "You didn't see my valentine / I sent it via pantomime," Apple sings to open the track, proving once more that if you're not catching her black comedy, you're just not listening closely enough. "Valentine" feels like Apple at her best, and it's certainly the highlight of "The Idler Wheel…": musically sparse with lyrics of romantic entanglement that are scarily self-aware.

4. "Jonathan" - The most controversial track on "The Idler Wheel" due to its famous subject, writer (and Apple's ex-boyfriend) Jonathan Ames. Yet the melodically maniacal track stands out not because it says some substantive about Ames, but Apple herself: "I don't want to talk about anything."


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5. "Left Alone" - Manic depression in sonic form: the song's tempo alternates between hyper-speed and tortuously drawn-out, and Fiona's vocal range is equally all over the place. Scat drumming punctuates Apple's pleas to be left alone and to be loved.

6. "Werewolf" - How many animal metaphors can Fiona toss out to capture the ugly dissolution of a relationship? Amidst the clever wildlife wordplay, Apple acts like a real adult, describing the tightrope walk of wanting to "be there" for an ex while still fleeing from his life as fast as she can.

7. "Periphery" - Apple teeters between completely bitter and emotionally mature: "He found a prettier girl than me with a more even temper," she cheerfully sings before encouraging her former lover to go after the new girl. The upbeat song ends with the sound of shoes scraping on pavement - a literal nod to dragging one's feet.

8. "Regret" - Here's the one moment on the record where Fiona Apple drops the maturity bit, replacing blame-sharing and justification of her ex's bad behavior with total character assassination. Never has a chorus included the phrase "white dove feathers to soak up the hot piss that comes from your mouth every time you address me." Be afraid, be very afraid.

9. "Anything We Want" - A necessary mood shift following the album's heaviest moment, and as much of a pick-me-up song as anything in Apple's catalogue. She's almost anthemic, singing about trying "not to let those bastards get us down" and making light-hearted (relatively speaking) references to childhood.

10. "Hot Knife" - What do you get when you combine classical piano with female a cappella vocals and lyrics in which Apple compares herself to butter and her potential lover to a hot knife (and vice versa)? The strangest - and most strangely triumphant - moment on "The Idler Wheel…"

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard

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