For all the diehard Fiona junkies out there, you know it is hard to get a fix. Luckily, she only produces top quality supply.
As SFC editor David Johnson-Igra put it to me, music blogs and critics have been “laying it on thick” for Fiona’s fourth full-length release The Idler Wheel is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw, and Whipping Chords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do. Yes, quite the mouthful but nothing compared to 1999’s When the Pawn…
Well duh. It has been seven years since the release of Extraordinary Machine, the album that generated a viral anti-Sony, anti-music industry campaign in the early 2000s when Fiona refused to Jewel it up and whore away her poetic niche for mainstream appeal. She instead forced Sony to shelve the album indefinitely, the first occupier if you will. Fans are passionate about Fiona because she is genuinely passionate about what she does.
And, in some ways The Idler Wheel… harkens back to the cult classic When the Pawn… in more ways than one. Again, she has abandoned any concerted effort to produce a hit or push racy envelopes and instead has produced an honestly-raw mix of voice cracking cathartic passion, jazzy drawls and free-wheeling voice scales that captivate the listener from beginning to end.
The opening track and first single, “Every Single Night,” highlights Fiona’s poetic mastery and break-up fueled aggression that has become her signature: “The rib is the shell/ the heart is the yolk and/ I’ve just made a meal for us both to choke on.” The music itself is stripped down so as to highlight her voice and the lyrics. Although, the video is definitely some sort of bizarre 90s alt-rock throwback. I don’t get it.
On “Werewolf” she delicately laments “we can support each other, all we gotta do is avoid each other,” drawing her inspiration from her own heartache. For diehard fans who identify with these sorts of lyrics the internal battles are here.
And, perhaps another reason the critics (like myself) are laying it on so thick is we are merely impressed with her voice. Fiona’ s voice is clearly a standalone instrument on all the tracks, the rest are just backup singers. On “Left Alone,” Fiona displays this vocal range. In one breath she goes from a deep manly baratone to an almost Mariah Carey-esque peak. On “Hot Knife” her voice scales from deep and guttural sailing into a high falsetto before rumbling like war drums. The lyrics are simple but captivating as they are layered top of each other towards the end.
But don’t let that fool you, there is nothing flashy about The Idler Wheel, it is just well-conceived and honest. I don’t want Fiona to crank out album after album, she is a quality over quantity musician… who is playing Oakland’s Fox Theater July 28, if you wanna buy me a ticket.