The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do, frequently abridged as The Idler Wheel…, is the fourth studio album by Fiona Apple. Like her second album When the Pawn…, it derives from a poem written by Apple herself. It was released on June 19, 2012, by Epic Records. The album debuted at number three on the Billboard 200, her highest debut yet, selling 72,000 copies in its first week. The album earned a nomination at the 2013 Grammy Awards for Best Alternative Album.
The album was recognized as #10 among The 100 Best Albums of the Decade So Far, a list published by Pitchfork Media in August 2014.
Following the delays and controversy surrounding the release of Extraordinary Machine (2005), Apple began recording new material for her fourth studio album in secret, including from her label, Epic Records. When asked by BlackBook magazine on when the recording sessions began, Apple remarked,
It must have started in 2008. Or 2009. I don’t know! I have no idea. It’s weird to think that there was 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011. Where’ve I been? What was I doing? What was that year about?
It was very casual, and I wasn’t fully admitting that I was making an album, I got to use the time in the studio to inspire me to finish other things rather than feel like I was finishing homework to hand in. It wasn’t a lot of pressure. And the record company didn’t know I was doing it, so nobody was looking over my shoulder.
Instead of her long-time collaborator Jon Brion, Apple opted to produce the album with her touring drummer, Charley Drayton. Executives at Epic only found out that Apple had recorded an album in early 2012, when she presented it to them. Originally planned for release in 2011, Apple delayed the album’s release until her label found a new president in 2012, explaining that she delayed it because she “didn’t want her work to be mishandled amid corporate disarray.” During a secret concert in Los Angeles with Brion, Apple remarked, “I can’t remember any of my new songs because they’ve been done for a fucking year.” On January 24, 2012, L.A. Reid announced through social networking site Twitter that new material from Apple will be released later in 2012, saying “Lot’s [sic] of good music coming from Epic_Records in the next few weeks. Stay tuned music fans. Welcome back Fiona!”
Apple announced a small tour in Spring 2012 prompting speculation over a new album. Ahead of her first performance on the tour, the album and its title were announced
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. The tour marked Apple’s first performances outside of Los Angeles in over five years. Apple kicked off the tour with two performances at the South by Southwest Festival where she debuted three new songs from The Idler Wheel….The album’s first single
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, “Every Single Night”, received positive reviews and was well received by fans and critics. Pitchfork Media’s Jenn Pelly gave the song their Best New Music designation the same day. She released a video for the track “Hot Knife” on July 24, 2013.
On June 19, 2012, the same day that The Idler Wheel… was released, Apple began an expansive North American tour to promote the album. The tour kicked off in Ithaca, New York, and finished on July 29 at the Hollywood Palladium. On June 24, Apple performed at the Sunday portion of New York City’s Governors Ball Music Festival, which featured acts such as Modest Mouse, Explosions in the Sky and Beck, among others.
The music video for “Every Single Night” premiered on the Sundance Channel on June 10 and was directed by Joseph Cahill. On the same day the entire album streamed online on NPR. On June 18, Apple made her first television appearance since 2006 on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Apple performed “Anything We Want” with The Roots and celebrated Paul McCartney’s 70th birthday by performing “Let Me Roll It” with Jimmy Fallon performing back-up vocals.
The Idler Wheel… was lauded by music critics upon release. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 89, based on 35 reviews, which indicates “universal acclaim”. Stephen Thomas Erlewine of Allmusic gave a very positive review to the album, awarding it with four-and-a-half stars out of five, found Fiona Apple stronger than ever and said: “Nothing is wasted, either in the composition or arrangement, and this lean confidence binds The Idler Wheel. Stripped of all her carnivalesque accouterments, Fiona Apple remains as rich and compelling as she ever was, perhaps even more so.” BBC Music reviewer James Skinner was positive on the album and happy that she’s finally back. Blair Kelly of the musicOMH praised the album and found it “at the same time both roaring with rage and swooning with romance”, gave it four-and-a-half stars out of five and wrote: “The Idler Wheel… is a really incredible album, where Apple has quite cleverly developed musically in just the right way, creating something utterly distinct and different to her earlier work whilst still retaining all the characteristics that won fans over to begin with.” American Songwriter writer Jim Beviglia started his review with not believing she has been around for almost 16 years and only released four albums, rated it with four-stars-out-of-five and noted: “Like an open wound, The Idler Wheel isn’t always pretty, but it pulses with life, brutal and true. Let’s just hope that Apple doesn’t wait so long next time to challenge us all again.” Nick Krenn of Earbuddy scored the album 9.4 out of ten and said “Apple’s songwriting remains sharp, perhaps more serrated, featuring lyrical wordplay performed with impeccable flow that many rappers would envy.” Melissa Maerz of Entertainment Weekly was also very positive on the album, calling it “hard to understand” like the previous ones and gave it an A and closed her review writing: “You have to give yourself over to The Idler Wheel in a way you probably haven’t done since you were a kid, before jobs and other adult responsibilities claimed the long hours you spent curled up by your stereo speakers. It isn’t easy listening. But it’s worth it.” Ryan Dombal of Pitchfork Media scored the album nine out of ten and called it “the most distilled Fiona Apple album yet”, concluding that “even after being thrown into the media spotlight at a young age, and having to deal with crippling doubt, Fiona Apple didn’t go boom. She’s still here, brave enough to indulge in raw emotion and smart enough to make those feelings carry.” Consequence of Sound was also very positive and called the album “one of the most daring pop records in recent history”, awarding it with four-and-a-half stars out of five and said: “The risks she takes hardly even seem like risks for her anymore because the album is so well-oiled.”
Jessica Hopper of Spin rated it eight out of ten and said: “The unexpected triumph lies not in the spectacle of the singer raw-dogging her emotions, but in her total command of the anarchy that results.” Greg Kot of Chicago Tribune called it “more stripped down and turbulent than before” and gave it three-and-a-half stars out of four and said: “It makes for a raw, unsettling listen, tempered by shots of dark humor.” NME put the album as “NME Recommends” and rated it as eight-out-of-ten and said: “The tension created by the lyrics and music is wonderful and uneasy, ensuring that The Idler Wheel.
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.. is endlessly fascinating and unlike anything else you’re likely to hear this year.” Slant Magazine was also positive and gave it four-stars-out-of-five and said: “The Idler Wheel captures what’s made Apple one of the defining artists of her generation: a persona that’s reflected changing views of private versus public spheres. The results have often been misunderstood, but Apple has continued to present herself as someone who refuses to resort to niceties of tact or self-censorship when she engages with her audience.” The A.V. Club graded the album an A and said: “The beauty of The Idler Wheel… is how it transmits each of those feelings in excruciating, frank, and lovely detail
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.” Jillian Mapes of Billboard gave a very positive review to the album and wrote: “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.” The Boston Phoenix praised the album, awarded it with three-and-a-half stars out of four and said: “Her fourth album is arguably her funniest … but also her leanest and most melodically daring.” Paste magazine reviewer Stephen M. Deusner wrote a positive review and rated as 8.4 out of 10 and said: “To her immense credit, Apple never flinches at such uneasy insights and insoluble contradictions, which makes The Idler Wheel a tough but rewarding listen.” Now magazine was also positive on the album, picked “Hot Knife” as the “Top Track”, gave it four out of five stars and noted, “Apple’s return to music is not only undeniably powerful, but Idler is arguably her best work yet.”
However, PopMatters’ Enio Chiola rated the album six out of ten and said: “half of the album is magnificent, and stylistically contradistinct, while the other half exists in some offbeat and off-putting terrain that will either elude its listeners, or alienate them.” but in the end he confessed that “The Idler Wheel isn’t necessarily (even at its core) a bad record. It is a record that is purposefully and inauthentically difficult for the sake of being difficult.” Rolling Stone gave the album three-and-a-half out of five stars and said: “The Idler Wheel… is a challenging album. The songs are intricately arranged but sonically stark, foregrounding Apple’s piano and the stupendous drumming of Charley Drayton. There’s not a single big, chewy hook on the album. Sometimes the songs drag… But Apple’s kooky energy pushes through the slow spots.”
The album earned a nomination at the 55th Grammy Awards for Best Alternative Album. The album was named the best album of 2012 by Time Magazine, Stereogum, Spinner, and NPR Music’s Fresh Air. It ranked at number 2 on the lists of Consequence of Sound and Entertainment Weekly
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, number 3 on the lists of USA Today and Pitchfork Media, number 4 on Paste, number 5 in Rolling Stone, number 10 on Idolator, number sixteen in Spin, number seventeen on American Songwriter and Filter, and appeared on NPR’s unnumbered list.
Apple’s track “Hot Knife” ranked at number twelve in Rolling Stones 50 Best Songs of 2012 list and “Every Single Night” ranked at number 7 on American Songwriters Top 50 Songs of 2012. In Pitchfork Media’s Top 100 Tracks of 2012, “Werewolf” was ranked at number 9 and “Every Single Night” was ranked at number 35.
All songs written and composed by Fiona Apple.
Credits adapted from The Idler Wheel… album liner notes.