Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Fiona Apple

  • Tidal [Work, 1996] Neither
  • When the Pawn . . . [Clean Slate/Epic, 1999] A-
  • Extraordinary Machine [Clean Slate/Epic, 2005] A-
  • The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Ever Do [Epic, 2012] A-
  • Fetch the Bolt Cutters [Epic, 2020] A

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Tidal [Work, 1996] Neither

When the Pawn . . . [Clean Slate/Epic, 1999]
For any Upper West Side showbiz kid, musical comedy is mother's milk, more "natural" than the rude attack of rock or the polite confessional of folk. And having gone mega, Fiona was autonomous enough to want it that way. With crucial help from Jon Brion, she's got the Richard Rodgers/Kurt Weill part down, and will surely tackle the Dorothy Fields/Lorenz Hart part later. Meanwhile, confessional attacks like "A Mistake" and "Get Gone" will do. Webber & Sondheim, watch out. A-

Extraordinary Machine [Clean Slate/Epic, 2005]
Instead of delivering the music a sharp-tongued breakup record by an empowered young female would imply--if not folk-rock plain and simple, then emotional piano-woman pop--Apple adapts Broadway show tune to confessional mode. Although Mike Elizondo adds momentum, Jon Brion's colors still predominate, and the melodic and structural contours are all Apple's. Ira Gershwin she's not; Betty Comden she's not either. But she wouldn't be half as inspiring if they were what she was aiming for. A-

The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Ever Do [Epic, 2012]
A funny thing will happen once you've figured out that the title is the stupidest thing about an album that's damn catchy after all. It'll sound like a piano record--a defiantly primitivist, raucously avant-garde lounge singer's piano record, with a really nutty drummer: he'll-bang-on-anything (and-get-her-to-pitch-in) producer Charley Drayton. There are few arpeggios, and not much tone color and such. She just executes simple figures and hammers thick chords, including a few boogie-woogies just to make a point. She also sings--words, yes, but more decisively, sounds. Not background music. But you could sure call it mood music. A-

Fetch the Bolt Cutters [Epic, 2020]
Since The Idler Wheel was also the most acclaimed album of its spring only to be surpassed later in 2012 by Frank Ocean and Lamar Kendrick, I was skeptical about all the 10.0 hoohah until immersion changed my mind. Overwhelming Apple's usual pianistics with riptides of the avant percussion drummer-producer Charley Drayton brought to The Idler Wheel but is now all Fiona and the software she's crushing on, the music grows on you before you realize it because it's not hooky in a hummy kind of way. Instead it's beaty, clattering like nothing I can recall and hence hard to recall itself--you have to refer back to the record. There the bite and elan of her latest love-don't-last songs will win over anyone down with both "Kick me under the table all you want/I won't shut up, I won't shut up" and the sisterly warmth that softens bite and clatter both: "Shemekia"'s fist bump to a junior high ally, "Ladies" making common cause with fellow exes, "For Her" deploying the abuse stories of a Hollywood intern she feels for. "You raped me in the same bed your daughter was born in"? Some "metaphor," wouldn't you say? A

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