When Fiona Apple's latest album, The Idler Wheel..., leaked last spring, critics immediately singled out the singer's shrieks and screams. Her fervor -- which will be presumably be on display in Apple's sold-out show at the Fox Theater tomorrow, July 28 -- seemed a strange digression from the clever-cool pose we'd come to expect from our pop stars. Writers celebrated her bravery, of course. But they also explained it away by pointing up a nuttiness that long ago (the '90s!) was made part of her mystique, when she became the woman famous for falling apart -- at televised award shows and on records her label refused to release. The Los Angeles Times' Randall Roberts summed up the general critical attitude toward The Idler Wheel... when in June he wrote, "Like Apple's doodles, which are peppered throughout the CD booklet, her songs at first look to be the works of a talented diarist. But they blossom once they hit air."
To my ears, The Idler Wheel... is all blossom and no seed. It's big, beautiful, and bold. It isn't the intimate album I've read about again and again, from Pitchfork to Entertainment Weekly. It's airy and expansive, almost cosmic in its power to ring true. The pauses and silence that often swell between the verses open the songs up. They don't encircle the singer the way the quiet from your typical singer-songwriter session can.
And what about the stuff Apple puts between the silences? The growl she lets out midway through the album's second track, "Daredevil," say? That could very well be our entire culture's Charlie Brown moment -- our "Good grief! How the fuck did we get here, Snoopy?" In the chorus she screams "Look at me!" Is there a musical passage that more concisely sums up what this age of self-branding has turned us into?More »