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June 20, 2012

Music Review || Fiona Apple's New Album

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Fiona Apple is my favourite, favourite musician. I could not count the number of times I’ve listened to her albums on all my family’s digits. Her music has grown with me from high school to adulthood, and I’ve found a melody and a lyric for every mood and every situation.

Thus, I can’t explain the excitement I felt when I heard that the release date for her new album The Idler Wheel… was only in six months’ time. Yeah, that was a bit of a way back in time, and I’ve been waiting eagerly since then. I hadn’t even listened to the music they released ahead of it because I wanted to leave my experience of the album pure. (Yes, I am a little off-the-wall)

I was filled with trepidation on Monday morning: will the new album even be available in South Africa? Luckily I acquired a copy, and have been listening to it almost non-stop since Tuesday morning.

My first thoughts: different, but still Fiona. Is this art or music, or is it intended to be both? Why do I feel like she’s pushed me away? I wasn’t sure if I liked it or not. What was the point of her vocal flourishes, and the sometimes-crazy instrumental interruptions?

After my first listen, I perused several reviews of her album. I could not agree with the New York Daily News’ view that you could respect the album but “never once listen to [it] again” because I was already dying to listen to it again, despite feeling a little overwhelmed and confused. And I’ve come to realise that this is certainly not the type of album you can only listen to once: it is saturated with little nuances of meaning and little catches of melody that you won’t hear the first time around.

Listening to the album is trying to discover the meaning of a poem; you have to hear the album, not simply listen to it, to understand what Fiona’s trying to say. Truly hearing the album is the secret to understanding those aforementioned vocal flourishes, which really fit into the entirety of the album beautifully, and it has a focus that Fiona herself has appeared to lack in recent years. But appearances are deceiving.

The more you hear her, the closer you get to her, so the idea that she’s trying to push her fans away has no support. You won’t find another album as introspective and self-obsessed as this one, and she’s as introspective and self-obsessed as all of us. Her intimate self-expression must be one of the reasons many of her fans, myself included, truly love her music.

I understand that many have been left disappointed – this isn’t the frank and direct album that was Tidal, nor is it the angry When the Pawn… - Fiona’s evolution has continued along the artistic road Extraordinary Machine took her, and not along the path to mainstream popularity many were perhaps hoping she would take.

Fiona’s newest album is full of energy, and fraught with emotions and tension. It filled me up so much that after my third listen I was overwhelmed, and when I tried to escape to another sound, I was left disappointed with the empty and dull electronic rhythms. They were too fake.

Perhaps I really am just a Fiona Superfan, but I’ve given it yet another listen. J

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