Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2012-07-24

2012-07-24

Fiona Apple: 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-

Regina Spektor: What We Saw From the Cheap Seats (Sire, 2012) Outside of country music (and I don't know who compares there), pop music is home to few friendlier artists than Regina Spektor. So well-meaning you want to kiss the tip of her nose, she uses her classical chops to craft tunes that will help any normal listener smile. But although a practical humanist is a rare thing, this one often needs more spice or even grit, and here her whimsy is front and center. I love "All the Rowboats," about a museum--"Masterpieces serving maximum sentences/It's their own fault/For being timeless"--and "Firewood," about a piano. "Ballad of a Politician" plays off "Shake it, shake it baby" (hands, get it?) and "Open" comes with a gurgling groan. But many of these songs are merely bemused, and when she revises "I'm just a soul whose intentions are good," all she achieves is a different singalong from the one you expected. B+

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