Fiona Apple's 'The Idler Wheel': What the Critics are Saying

Fiona Apple Idler album art P

After a seven-year hiatus, Fiona Apple has released her fourth studio album on June 19. For a 10-track album, the title is a mouthful--The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than The Driver Of The Screw And Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do. It’s unclear what the album title means exactly, but with help from a diagram created by the LA Times and a thorough listen, Apple fans can find their own meaning of The Idler Wheel. Apple co-produced the album and all songs were written and composed by her as well. The album produced the single “Every Single Night” in May, which she has made a music video for.

Coming back from a hiatus with a somewhat unexpected album, will critics praise Apple’s album?

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The album presents "a stunning portrait of her interpersonal relationships that's more even-keeled than any of her past works," says Billboard’s Jillian Mapes. According to Mapes, Apple’s unflinching honesty is a key factor in why her fan base has stayed loyal throughout her hiatus.

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? “An album that was absolutely worth the seven-year wait.”

Mapes says although the album is not exactly catchy, “it will stick with listeners--and might even haunt a few.”

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“A lot of these songs appear like bloody, mechanical effigies of herself,” says TIME critic Jeremy Larson. “Apple’s vocal violence is both hard to listen to and yet totally punk rock.” He says it’s only the mechanical parts of her music that can be ugly and painful where the sum of all the parts is just beautiful.

Despite the sometimes unsettling aspects of the album, Larson says, “The Idler Wheel succeeds in creating a singular world more daring than any of Apple’s previous records and one of the most daring pop records in recent history. The risks she takes hardly even seem like risks for her anymore because the album is so well-oiled.”

The Associated Press reports that “Apple brings to the table her impeccable lyric-writing skills and instinct for the most wonderful turn of phase.” The album, says AP, “presents the listener with a deceptive façade of frugality, [but] blooms into a rich tapestry of emotional stories.” By the end of the album, the listener will feel as if they’ve been to wonderland.

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“This is the most distilled Fiona Apple album yet,” says Pitchfork’s Ryan Dombal. “Every single waveform is pierced with purpose, from the muted heartbeat thumping through ‘Valentine’ to the childlike plinks popping around the uncharacteristically optimistic ‘Anything We Want’ to the chugging factory sounds that give ‘Jonathan’ its uneasy rhythm.”

Dombal notes that as Apple’s self-drawn cover suggests, the inner workings of her mind can be unpleasant and “head-splinteringly vivid.”

“This is not background music,” he says. “It demands attention.”