Review #213: The Idler Wheel…, Fiona Apple

Karla Clifton
3 min readDec 17, 2021

#213: The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw

and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Ever Do, Fiona Apple

Welcome back to another Fiona Apple album that uses a whole ass poem for its title. It does beg the question: is the idler wheel really wiser than the driver of the screw? And will whipping cords really serve me more than ropes, if I have no one to whip? These are the questions that keep Fiona Apple up at night.

Apple took years and years to record this one, and she apparently didn’t even tell her record label that she was making a record. I can get behind a little bit of insubordination.

When The Pawn… is the bigger album commercially and critically, so it’s only right that Apple’s sophomore album is seated a little higher. But the lyrics on this album are way more emo than the lyrics on When The Pawn…, so obviously I prefer it.


“Every Single Night” — The scream-in-your-car song. Every single night’s a fight with my brain. Makes me think of sleep paralysis.

“Daredevil” — I’m just a sucker for singer-songwriters who lean into avant-garde poetry.

“Valentine” — Fiona Apple, I recommend that you don’t pantomime your valentines if you want your recipients to get them!

“Jonathan” — Named for writer Jonathan Ames, whom she dated for a bit.

“Left Alone” — Are these bongo drums? Incredible. Also, the lyrics on this one hurt me a little. How can I ask anyone to love me/When all I do is beg to be left/Alone?

“Werewolf” — Love her use of the word liken so much —allusion to “lycanthrope?” This is a great album to recontextualize all of your failed relationships with.

“Periphery” I don’t appreciate/People who don’t appreciate.

“Regret” — Another one worth quoting at length: I ran out of white doves’ feathers/To soak up the hot piss that comes from your mouth/Every time you address me.

“Anything We Want” — A happy song! With some more DIY percussion from Apple. I wish I was this kind of person, who could sit with a pair of scissors at a desk and just make some music.

“Hot Knife” — The second most exciting song. These amazing high harmonies are from Maude Maggart. Wait, who’s the hot knife and who’s the pat of butter?


“Largo” — Named for her one of her favorite clubs, this isn’t necessarily a bad song. I just don’t like songs that are mostly name-dropping.


I’m pleased that Fiona Apple has another entry on the list, with Extraordinary Machine, #444. Bear in mind that none of the albums listed have Apple’s biggest hit on them, “Criminal” from her debut. But that song is pretty cookie cutter anyway.

Review #212: Wild is the Wind, Nina Simone

Review #214: Wildflowers, Tom Petty