Sunday, January 13, 2013

Idler Wheelin and Dealin

Last year, Alipete and I took three weeks to write a track-by-track review of Hospitality's debut album. It took approximately six months for us to compile the following review of Fiona Apple's latest, The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do.

1. Every Single Night 

This is barely a song, right? It’s more of a poetry slam with some piano tinkles tossed in? How long would it take me to learn this song on the piano? More or less than 10 minutes? Still, I like it a lot. Your enjoyment of this song is based completely on your enjoyment of Fiona’s voice, and if you care for that sound at all, you should love this.
Best metaphor: “The rib is the shell and the heart is the yolk”
The actual music here sounds like a child's nightmare. Eerie. You could definitely learn it in less than 10 minutes. Her voice starts so fragile, but then almost immediately she throws it into a sort of tribal yell on the "braaaaiiiinnnn." Which I enjoy. Overall, very nice, but I take off one full point for "I does what I does." That bothered me. And I thought she was saying "I want to be everything," not "feel," and I think I like my version better.
Best metaphor: AGREED, but I'd extend it to include "and I just made a meal for us both to choke on." Terrific.

Yeah, I wouldn’t have thought I’d enjoy her shouting BRAIN over and over, but I do. I really do.

2. Daredevil

Here’s the song I assumed was titled “Chaperone” until just now. I don’t particularly like many of the words used in this album’s lyrics – “chaperone” is the first example. But I like all of this song aside from the very short choruses containing said word. The song seems like a good version of an old burlesque show standard.
Best metaphor: “Say I’m an airplane and the gashes I got from my heartbreak make slots on the flaps upon my wings and I use them to give me lift”

This song is everything I like about Fiona Apple. Maybe my favorite on the album? I don't know. We'll find out! Anyway, it's all great. The drum rolling, the piano pounding, the pained shouting, the heartbreak, oh, the heartbreak. I particularly love the "Look at, look at, look at, look at me," which leads me to my candidate for...
Best metaphor: "I'm all the fishes in the sea." She really sells it.

3. Valentine

"While you were watching someone else, I stared at you and cut myself." Dark! Though I really like the contrast of the heavy lyrics and the upbeat, pretty poppy music. The piano is great all the way through. She's been heavy on the repetition so far, huh? "You, you, you, you." It's love; it's accusatory. I like it.  And "I watch you live to have my fun"? Just fantastic.
Best metaphor: "It's all I'll do 'cause I'm not free. A fugitive too dull to flee." Does that count?

"Valentine" reminds me of "Please Please Please" on "Extraordinary Machine". Heavy on the repetition, and fucking terrible. PPP came up on my shuffle a few weeks ago, reminded me of how terrible it was, stayed in my head for the next four days, and made me vow not to keep shit like that on hard drives. The first half of "Valentine" is fine, but when the "you you you you" part starts, my ears bleed. Metaphorically.
Best metaphor: Please don't make me listen to this song again to pick out a metaphor.

4. Jonathan

This song is not ABOUT former boyfriend Jonathan Ames, but it IS named after him! It makes sense in the same way that it made sense for her to stop drinking to punish herself for disturbing the hummingbirds in her backyard. Jesus Christ, if I'd heard that podcast 15 years ago I'd own 3 fewer albums.
Best metaphor: I hate the only metaphor I hear, "My little fists tugging on your forest chest". Ruins the song for me, actually. There is a simile in the bridge, but I don't love it either.

I like the piano on this, but that's about it. Really boring, right? The whole song is like the same three sentences repeated, and it doesn't work. Also, I prefer to think it is about Jonathan Ames. Say he did take her to Coney Island. Don't you think they'd have the worst time?
Metaphor: Agreed. And the "captain of a capsized ship" line is pretty lame.

5. Left Alone

Man, I don't know what to think about this one. It's all over the place -- the music, the singing, everything... I like the piano kicking it at the 30-second mark, but I think that is the high point. I hate the line "tears calcify in my tummy." (Tummy???) I love the line "I was still a dewy petal rather than a moribund slut." I think when I listen to this album in the future, I will probably skip this one.
(All points are for rhyming "orotund mutt" with "moribund slut." Really well done.)
Metaphor: See above re: "dewy petal."

My favorite thing about this song is that it is not the two songs before it. I’m not big on the piano riff, but I like the percussion, and her vocal work is super. I had not noticed the word she was falsetto-ing was “Tummy”, and now I like this song a little less. THANKS A LOT.
Agreed on best metaphor.

6. Werewolf

I start off unsure about this one.  She starts with what I guess is a simile: “I could liken you to a werewolf, the way you left me for dead, but I must admit I provided a full moon”. Boy, I sure to not like the “but I must admit” part of that lyric. It feels like the kind of words an amateur would add to the lyrics to fit the meter. And I am not crazy about the main werewolf metaphor, and I dislike when songwriters mention songwriting within their songs: “nothing wrong when a song ends in a minor key”. (Similarly, I hate it when a movie is about a writer who has writer’s block, so he writes a new book and that book’s subject is what we have just seen take place over the course of the movie! BOO!) But by the time the playground of children kicks in at the 2:12 mark, I’m 100% on board. That unorthodox sample loop was mentioned in several reviews; I initially wrote it off, since it was mentioned alongside other sounds she recorded in DAVID BLAINE’S HOUSE, but now must admit it’s my favorite moment on the record. It’s my favorite song on the album, a really nice description of two good people who are bad for each other.
Best Metaphor: Chock-full of metaphors! The best describes his lava making an island over her, which sounds super gross the way I wrote it.

I love the first 1:20 of the song: wounded and upset, but pretty and delicate. So I'm a little disappointed when she starts doing her trademark Fiona Growl. And I like the Fiona Growl! I guess I wanted her to keep that softer sound throughout. Man, I just can't get behind the children playing/screaming. Is it the sound of the children they'll never have?? Whatever. It seems superfluous. That aside, the lyrics, and the song in general, are lovely. Also, I don't know enough about music to know when a song ends in the minor key. But I guess I get her point. Maybe.
I thought she was saying "you made an island out of me," which gets MY vote for best metaphor.

Well, hell. I put some research into this island metaphor, and you will be SHOCKED with what I've found.

First, let me say that the liner notes of the compact disc list every word of "Werewolf" except for the bridge in question. No wonder no one is buying CDs anymore! So I used Google to research this island metaphor, and the internet seems to agree that Fiona sings "you made an island of me". I'm hearing "over me" and you're hearing "out of me" because she's inserting an extra syllable into "of" -- more like "of-a-me" than "of me".

The good news is without that extra googling, I never would have found out about Werewolf Island:

"Werewolf Island": Eighteen-year old Lexie Woods was sent in a cruise to Bahamas to celebrate her brother’s 25th birthday. The cruise ship wrecked and went under water fast; separating Lexie and her brother Billy forever. Lexie found herself inside one of the three life boats that were tied together. The twenty four survivors were taken to the shores of a beautiful island, and they all felt lucky to have found such paradise. To their horror they soon learned it was a 'Werewolf Island' and the fight for survival began! Will Lexie fall in love with dazzling and intelligent Archaeologist student, and fellow human survivor ‘Walter’? Or will she fall in love with ‘Kassius’? The good-looking alpha male werewolf?

I am DELIGHTED to learn about "Werewolf Island." INTERNET BOOK CLUB?? My prediction: Lexie goes for Kassius, the handsome werewolf. It seems like the smart move. Your brother's dead, Lexie. Leave human life behind and form an alliance with the werewolves. Also, if this book can be published, surely I can publish a book, right? Seems like anything goes now?

7. Periphery

The second the piano kicked in, I thought, "Hey, haven't I heard this one before? Isn't this EVERY Fiona Apple song?" This song kind of stumps me. I like it fine, but I don't really know why. The music is pleasant; the lyrics are kind of interesting. But is this another song about  losing a guy? This is getting a little tedious. The yodeling at 3:50 is nice, and I like how she sings "the periphery." But I don't know. That  can't really carry a song for five minutes. I do like the line  "I don't appreciate people who don't appreciate."
Metaphor: Is there a metaphor? Is the PERIPHERY a metaphor??

I, too, think the end of this song is okay, but dislike the rest of it. I mean, she says the word "periphery" way too much, even for a song titled "Periphery".

8. Regret

I didn't pay much attention to this track for the first few weeks. I think I looked at the tracklist one day and was like, "What, which one is 'Regret'?" So I started to focus on it. Dark. Pretty dark. Pretty great. I love the lyric about how she was sick and "you didn't believe me", because I think we all have a first instinct to not believe people are really that sick, or that they are truly that allergic to dander or whatever.

I liked this from the first lines: "Remember when we argued on the concept of regret? You were an expert even then but not me, not yet." Not yet! So great. And man, oh man, that voice at like 2:30. That is some pain. Who's she singing about here? It's like a Taylor Swift lyric mystery. Also, my sister always claims to be sick, but rarely is. So I didn't believe her when she said she didn't feel well at the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest, and then she fainted.
Metaphor: Man, I guess that has to be mine too. And "white dove feathers"? Is this song about David Blaine??

9. Anything We Want

All the clanking and jangling is nice, but musically, this song is kind of boring. Lyrically, I think it's pretty smokin' and kind of sweet. And after all the pain and heartbreak, it's refreshing... though the UFC shout-out is unexpected. Fiona seems to have found some happiness -- or is reliving an old happiness? Either way, I'm happy for her.  And when she sings "And we try not to let the bastards get us down," it just makes me think of Colin Meloy singing "On the Bus Mall," a song I like more than this one.
Metaphor: "My scars were reflecting the mist in your headlights."

I like the clanking! And the words, mostly. It's pretty sexy. I give it 9 out of 10 boners. A point/boner is deducted from her verse about pretending they are 8 year-olds playing hooky / UFC rookie. Then they're suddenly adults again, gettin' ready to get nasty. Whoops, too late, you already made me think about sex between little children! What? Chris Hansen, what are you doing here in my car? No no no - I just wanted to listen to a CD on my ride to work - I didn't have anything else planned, I swear!

10. Hot Knife

This is a fun song I hope I hear less than 50 times in my life. Don't get me wrong - if it pops up on my shuffle in three years, I'm gonna enjoy it. But if I hear it again a week after that, I'm going to consider deleting it from my hard drive. It is nice to hear a new song sung in the round - Row Row Row Your Boat seems to have a stranglehold on that genre. Maybe this will be heard around a campfire someday soon.
Best Metaphor: "If I'm butter, then he's a hot knife." Wins by default, I guess.

Maybe this is because this song review is coming at the end of a five-month process (my fault, I know) but I think I'd be happy to not hear this song again for a long, long time. Maybe ever. The metaphor is fine, I suppose, but I can't hear it in a round for 4:02. It gets to be pretty grating. Not your best, Fiona. Not close.
Metaphor: Agreed. Duh.


Cara L. Burnidge said...

I love-hate everything about this post.

adrienne said...

Whaaaa? Hot Knife is my favorite track on here. The primal "he excites me!"s. Cinemascope with a dancing bird of paradise. Little graceful minor key changes. I also like that they sang this the whole way through. Stamina, yo.

Best Metaphor on Album:
My cheeks were reflecting the longest wavelength.

dn said...

Oooh, good metaphor choice!

Corinne said...

are all the rankings based on boners?

dn said...

All rankings everywhere are always based on boners.

Anonymous said...

i appreciate the breakdown - will always love fiona apple but i've had a lot of trouble connecting with this album.

and i am definitely in for werewolf island book club!

please tell me you and alipete have some kind of podcast / webisode project in the works. sign me up.