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-

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-